Day: June 15, 2006

England Doesn’t Expect

England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago Well, they made hard work of it, again. For over eighty minutes, it looked as if the wheels had well and truly fallen off Sven’s wagon. England couldn’t blame the weather this time, and they couldn’t blame the referee. They couldn’t even argue that they scored early and decided to sit back and defend their lead. They toiled and struggled against a Trinidad team that had a fairly simple game-plan: defend frantically, try and break away of possible, and occasionally kick them. It nearly paid off. After Saturday, the stakes had risen. Winning wasn’t enough any more. England had to win well. There was no question of them taking Trinidad too seriously – but the question remains: if they are unable to break down a well-organised team of lower-division journey men, how on earth are they going to cope with the likes of Brazil or Argentina. At present, I think we all know the answer to that. Still, for all that, they’re through to the second round with a match to spare, and it’s the best start to a World Cup for England since 1982. I guess we should be grateful for small mercies. For the first fifteen minutes or so, it seemed comfortable enough. They kept possession, pinged a few dangerous balls into the Trinidad penalty area, and looked confident. But then, slowly...

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Oh Yes, We’re The Great Ecuador

Costa Rica 0-3 Ecuador So, farewell Costa Rica. Like Poland, they were a team that landed in Germany with realistic hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, but they’ve been found out at this tournament. Against Germany, they were somewhat unfortunate. Two goals from outrageous distance were the key to their defeat, but this afternoon they were simply out-thought by and Ecuador team that is growing in staure and reputation. Against Poland, Ecuador had been competent. It was all they needed to do against a Polish team who seemed to think that they would qualify for the next round by turning up in Germany and drawing all of their matches 0-0. Costa Rica didn’t put up that much more opposition today, but all the Ecuadorians can do is keep grinding out results. They’re not coming up against much opposition at the moment. Jon Champion was on good form. “Ecuador play their home matches at an altitude of two miles. The altitude today is reportedlt six feet”. This is the sort of fact I would like. I was also taken with the Ecuadorian goalkeeper again – more face-paint in the shape of their flag, and this time he was wearing a natty short-sleeved red jersey and tracksuit trousers, which made him look rather as if he was off to browse around Homebase for the afternoon rather than keep out the...

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The Story So Far…

Okay. Well, apart from Germany & Poland, we’ve seen everybody once, so now is about as good a time as any to have a quick look at what we’ve seen so far. It has been a terrific tournament so far. Only two goalless draws, and both of those matches were very watchable. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far, three teams have stood out: Italy, Argentina and Spain. Spain, of course, I’ve only recently dissected. Can they hold it together, psychologically? The pieces are in place. Raul seems to have accepted that he has got to fight for his place in the team. Puyol looks like quite a find. But… the result against Ukraine was flattering. Argentina looked strong and well-organised against a technically excellent Ivory Coast team. Ominously, they haven’t even played Lionel Messi yet, either. Having said that, I’m less than completely convinced by their defence but, if I were a gambler this is where my money would be going at present. If Italy can start firing on all cylinders as an attacking force, they could well go al the way. As with Spain, doubts linger over their mental fragility – Italy can look awesome one week, and then crumble against mediocre opposition the next – but they are certainly capable of going all the way. We should also keep a close eye on the...

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