As the likes of Brazil and Spain have already found out to their costs, there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as “the easy way” at this World Cup finals. Not, of course, that the England national football team has much truck with the concept of such a thing. Where there might smith passage, England will usually find some degree of drama. Where we might expect drama, they will usually contrive to manfacture some sort of crisis, whether real or illusory. The atmosphere surrounding the England team this summer, has been very different to recent years. When they were beaten out of sight by Germany, there was considerable gnashing of teeth, as if such a thing happening should have been some sort of surprise.
It wasn’t, though. It really wasn’t. Since the summer of 2010, however, something has changed within the psyche of the English in terms of their relationship with their national football team. At the European Championships two years ago, ambitions were set at a more realistic level and, frustrating as yet another penalty shoot-out defeat might have been, England got through the group stage of the comeptition and kept Italy out or one hundred and twenty minutes before succumbing to the inevitable. With expectations fully adjusted, even a loss in the opening match has been treated with a somewhat sanguine attitude. England didn’t disgrace themselves in any way on Saturday night, and there were plenty of positives to be taken from their performance against an Italy team that we would expect to see featuring in the latter stages of the competition.
Whether this new new realism would survive defeat or a draw against Uruguay this evening, though, is a somewhat different matter. Defeat would mean elimination from the competition at an all bar mathematical level, and furthermore the English know that their chances of beating Uruguay this evening are considerably greater than perhaps they should be. Uruguay will be without half of what had already looked like a rather pedestrian defence last weekend, with Maxi Pereira suspended for his moment of petulance at the end of their three-one defeat at the hands of Costa Rica last weekend, whilst Diego Lugano is injured. Pereira and Lugano have one hundred and eighty-five international caps between them. That sort of experience can be invaluable to an entire team.
On top of that, there is the small matter of a certain Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz, who returns from injury to play against a team containing five of his club team-mates. Suarez insists that he is “100% fit,” but few seem to be taking that at face value – after all, what else he could he possibly say if asked about that? – and a muted Suarez is probably A Good Thing for England. To highlight such potential shortcomings, however, is to gloss over the obvious talents that Uruguay have at ther disposal, such as Edinson Cavani. And we might well contend that a Uruguayan defence containing two fewer of those that were so hapless against Costa Rica on Saturday might be no bad thing for them. England, menwhile, are unchanged, with Wayne Rooney understood to be moving to the centre of the pitch. Perhaps he will be less anonymous there than he was on the left on Saturday. Then again, though, perhaps he won’t be. Anyway, it all kicks off at eight o’clock this evening, and I’ll be here with Rob Freeman – and whoever else chooses to pitch – from shortly prior to then. England, for once, doesn’t expect this summer, and that’s no bad thing at all.
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