So the first set of group games is done and dusted and there are few who would claim it has been scintillating thus far. After all the soul-searching that followed England’s draw with the USA, what has been most interesting to me has been the performances of the other leading nations.
Like England, Argentina squandered a host of chances in their 1-0 win over Nigeria (though as I write this, they are giving South Korea a lesson), Brazil could not break free of North Korea and conceded meekly in their 2-1 victory. Elsewhere, Portugal’s 0-0 with Ivory Coast was perhaps duller than watching Val Kilmer in ‘The Doors’ and as for Spain, well, pretty football is nothing without end product and their lack of respect for the Swiss was directly responsible for their defeat. The Italians plyed well only sporadically, the French were utterly awful and the Dutch did no more than was required – mind you, at least they looked a team that knew what to do.
Sure, the Germans gave the Aussies a hiding but our antipodean friends look pretty poor and the Germans have had six months more than the rest of us to practice with the new ball…. but that is another subject. Overall, though, the fancied countries were far more scared of losing than being desirous of victory.
And you can put England in that category. We didn’t really get out and chase a second goal when the first went in and ultimately paid the price for profligacy in front of goal and that keeping blunder. But we didn’t lose, have the group’s destiny in our hands and can play Algeria needing to win which would have been the expectation had we beaten the US 15-0.
And might I court controversy by saying that the draw will have done us a lot of good. Expectations are not sky high as a result. Fans are being that bit more realistic and the team know that 100% concentration and more aggression are required against every opposition.
I have never been less than certain that we will top our group and I have seen nothing to dissuade me of that notion. Nor have I seen any team that should scare us. All are vulnerable, all can be beaten and it leaves the tournament refreshingly open into the knockout stages.
And finally, my tip for a dark horse to go far and upset one of the major favourites – Chile.