Having recently been titled the “new Ballack”, Ruben Loftus-Cheek started his first ever World Cup match on Sunday, completing the full 90 minutes on an afternoon that saw England completely annihilate a very poor Panama side by a margin of 5 goals (a new record for England and for the current tournament overall).
Loftus-Cheek picked right up where he left off against Tunisia, taking on a defender near the byline, cruising past him and cutting back for Jesse Lingard, whose poor first-touch unfortunately thwarted a possible assist for the Chelsea midfielder. After this fine bit of play however, Ruben would show only occasional glimpses of his powerful, driving runs and silky skills. He also picked up a rather silly booking for an unnecessary foul early on.
There’s unfortunately not much more to say about Loftus-Cheek’s performance, especially as others took the limelight. Captain Harry Kane scored a hat-trick — two penalties and a lucky deflection but they all count! — and Jesse Lingard, however annoying he may be from a Chelsea perspective, put in a fantastic display crowned by a brilliantly taken goal from outside the box. Ruben played adequately enough, but did not impose himself on the game as much as he did in his 10-minute appearance against Tunisia.
The scoreline probably played a role in all that. England didn’t need to be at their best to beat comically inept Panama and neither did Loftus-Cheek. In fact, after the game, manager Gareth Southgate was less than impressed despite the six goals scored.
“I’m just being hypercritical, but I didn’t particularly like the performance really. I didn’t like the start and I didn’t like the goal at the end, but I guess the bits in the middle were pretty good.
“We looked a little bit anxious at the start because it was a difficult challenge against six at the back and three in midfield and then they pressed well off that. But once we’d worked that out, I thought we played some really good stuff for 35 or 40 minutes.”
The Central American side did get their act together a bit better in the second half, but after taking 5-0 lead into the dressing room at half-time, it was tough to truly find motivation for the Three Lions. Kane did add his third goal via an inadvertent deflection of a Loftus-Cheek long-shot, but the late consolation for Panama means that England and Belgium share an identical record heading into the final matchday where they play against each other.
“The second half is very difficult, no matter what you say to the players at half time, at 5-0 up. We spoke about the importance of one more goal to be top of the group and that’s why the goal we conceded at the end is disappointing.
“But for everybody, after the work we’ve put in for the last four weeks, it was rewarding to see how they’re playing and enjoying their football and I’m sure everybody at home enjoyed it as well which is great.”
-Gareth Southgate; source: The FA
For Loftus-Cheek, hopefully this is the first of many starts in an England shirt. Will the next one come against Belgium? It just might, given it’s relatively lack of significance. Panama posed no real challenge; RLC just might show the world why so many hold him in such high esteem.
“We will do everything exactly the same as we have been doing. Going into Belgium game we want to win, the pressure is not on to win but all the boys and staff will want to win.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Independent
Here’s Loftus-Cheek’s full post-match interview. Well done!