MOSCOW — Day 11 of World Cup 2018 is done, and the goals came by the bucketload.
England rained them down on Panama in a 6-1 victory highlighted by Harry Kane’s hat trick. Japan came from behind twice against Senegal in a fun 2-2 tie marked by inventive goals and goalkeeper errors. And Colombia kicked a disappointing Poland out of the tournament with a 3-0 victory that brought back memories of Colombia teams from 2014 and the early 1990s.
With each team having played two matches, only six have booked their round-of-16 places, while another eight have been eliminated, leaving plenty of drama to be settled in the coming four days.
Here are my five thoughts on Day 11:
• Colombia rediscovers itself to eliminate Poland
Maybe we can write off that Colombia loss to Japan on the third-minute red card? Because the Colombians were fantastic on Sunday to beat Poland 3-0 and revive their own World Cup hopes. Where do we start? Juan Cuadrado was a menace down the right side all night. Radamel Falcao hit a beautiful finish to put the Cafeteros up 2-0, scoring the first World Cup goal of his stellar career at the age of 32. Juan Quintero was confident and precise in his passing. And James Rodríguez had two gorgeous assists, including the pass of the tournament to Cuadrado for goal No. 3.
My favorite image of the night might be old Colombian stars Carlos Valderrama and René Higuita celebrating in the stands. This win looked like the early-1990s Colombians at their high-flying best.
• Everything is going right for England
It feels strange to write that at a World Cup, but it’s still early! The Three Lions were absolutely terrific against Panama, scoring five goals in the first half and creating danger throughout, especially from hat-trick hero Harry Kane (who’s now on a tournament-leading five goals).
Even England’s quirky set-piece routine turned into a goal just as it might have been drawn up on the training field. England has also defused any potential crises (like the one surrounding the leak of the supposed lineup against Panama), and it has clinched advancement to the knockout rounds with a game to spare. The only question is how England will respond once it faces a real challenge against a tough team on the field. With Belgium and England both likely to rest starters in the group finale, that full challenge may not come until the round of 16, but you know it’s coming at some point.
• Panama’s struggles should make U.S. players angry—and motivated
Let’s be perfectly clear: Panama deserved to be at this World Cup, and the U.S. did not. Panama was better than the U.S. over a 10-game qualifying tournament, full stop. It’s also fair to argue that while the U.S. would have been unlikely to advance from the group stage here, it also likely wouldn’t have been outscored 9-1 over the first two games as first-timer Panama has been. If you’re a USA fan, you can only hope that USMNT players were watching Panama lose 6-1 to England—and that doing so will provide even more motivation to make sure the failure to qualify for this World Cup never happens again.
• Group H is my favorite group in the tournament
You knew coming into the World Cup that all four teams in Group H—Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan—were capable of advancing from the group, and nothing that has happened so far has changed that opinion. Senegal has been a blast to watch, showing off copious amounts of skill and terrific work by coach Aliou Cissé to have four points from two games. Japan has been even better than expected, with Keisuke Honda providing a big boost in a substitute’s role. And Colombia was Colombia on Sunday. Poland was disappointing, but it’s a measure of this group that the seeded team (Poland) is out after two games.
Now, Japan, Senegal and Colombia will jockey for two spots in the knockout stage.
• The ref in England-Panama was terrific
I don’t often say stuff like this, but let’s hear it for FIFA referee Ghead Grisha, who worked the England-Panama game and was excellent. Why was he excellent? Let us count the ways. First off, the Egyptian gave a penalty against Panama midway through the first half that was the correct call—but in most cases probably wouldn’t have been called by a ref in Concacaf, which has been far too lenient on Panama’s strongman tactics over the years. Then, Grisha whistled for another penalty on a wrestling tackle in the box by Panama later in the game.
We’ve seen far too few of those incidents called in the World Cup, whether it was against Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic or Kane himself against Tunisia. Here's to hoping Grisha gets rewarded by FIFA with another assignment very soon in this World Cup.
Grant Wahl has covered soccer for 22 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, Masters of Modern Soccer, details the craft of soccer position by position. You can order it here.