Author: Ian

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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Poles Apart

Germany 1-0 Poland I suppose it was hardly surprising that it took Gary Lineker barely three minutes to describe “a Polish invasion of Dortmund tonight”, but it didn’t make it any less tiresome. Commentator Steve Wilson managed to top even that, mentioning both not mentioning the war and Basil Fawlty in his opening sentence. In recent weeks, I have watched the whole of the 1966 World Cup final, and “Goal!”, the official film of that tournament. The most notable thing about it is the complete absence of any mention of the war at all, all the more surprising because, at the time, it was in the living memory of considerably more people than it is now. Why it’s so difficult for the media to do it now is, frankly, beyond me. But anyway – there was a football match going on tonight, rather than a World War II re-enactment. Considering they’d lost their opening match to an average, if efficient, Ecuador team, Poland displayed a startling lack of ambition this evening. They played as if they would be more than happy with a point tonight – a stay of execution rather than any significant progress. For much of the first half, they made a pretty good job of it. Germany were tighter defensively, but lacked imagination going forward. Michael Ballack’s return was welcome, but even he was below-par, sending...

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Sheikh, Rattle & Roll

Saudi Arabia 2-2 Tunisia Earlier this afternoon, we were treated to the upper end of world football. A team playing at the top of it’s game, full of confidence and, for the first time on recent years, self-belief. The other match in the group, between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, was closer to the Nationwide Conference than it was to the Premiership, but it was no less entertaining for it. The thrashing dished out to Ukraine this afternoon had filled both of these teams with optimism. They were, suddenly and unexpectedly, both in with an unexpected chance of getting through the group stages. The margin of defeat that Ukraine suffered meant that, if either of these teams won, they would have an excellent chance of getting through. As it turned out, though, a draw did neither of them any favours. The first half was a lot of huff, a lot of puff, and not a lot of inspiration. The one moment of excellence came from Jaziri, who volleyed in from a corner. Otherwise, not a lot to report. At half-time, though, they must have put something in the tea. Noor missed a chance that may have been easier to score, but evened it up by levelling it. As commentator Jon Champion was describing the lavish riches that surround his life, the Saudi legend Sami Al-Jaber (who’d come on a minute...

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