England 1-0 Paraguay
Keep repeating the mantra: “it’s the result that counts, it’s the result that counts”. Time, I think, for a little perspective. Reading a few various blogs, messageboards and sites this morning, one would think that Paraguay had won 3-0, and that England should be packing their bags and withdrawing from their last two matches on the basis of “not being good enough to be there”. We should remind ourselves of several things before we join in with the criticism. Firstly, for all that it might sound like a cliche, the result is what counts at this stage in the tournament. England can now go into their match against Trinidad & Tobago knowing that a win is enough to send them through with a game to spare. I don’t think they were helped by scoring so early on. Extra reserves of energy can usually be summoned forth if there are twenty minutes to play and there’s no score. But would we rather have them 1-0 and not paying particularly well with twenty minutes to go, or level at 0-0 and playing well? I’ll take the former, thank you very much – sometimes, we’re almost masochistic on our self-loathing. Otherwise, for all that England failed to inspire yesterday, at no point in the second half did Paraguay so much as look like scoring. You could argue perfectly validly that, if Ericsson’s tactic was to shut up shop with half an hour to play and settle for the 1-0 win, it worked perfectly.
There are obvious causes for concern. If Michael Owen was suffering with half an hour to play, why take him off to replace him with a midfield player? If Theo Walcott isn’t good enough to play half an hour against Paraguay, perhaps he shouldn’t be in the squad in the first place. Leaving Peter Crouch as the sole striker showed a startling lack of ambition, and also showed up the lack of balance in the squad selected. England could have really done with Jermaine Defoe yesterday – as it was, we were left with the as-predictable-as-it-was-depressing sight of Owen Hargreaves coming on with ten minutes to further sure up the rear-end of the midfield. The fact that sometimes you still can’t see where a goal is coming from bodes ill for later in the tournament, though the expected introduction of Wayne Rooney for the knock-out stages should partially rectify that, should they get there.
So… in 1966, England were booed off after an anaemic goalless draw Uruguay. In 1990, they started out with a 1-1 draw against Ireland that was widely described as the “worst match in the history of the World Cup”. Whilst it’s natural to be concerned by the lifeless performance shown yesterday afternoon, we can at least console ourselves with the knowledge that they have the capability to do much, much better.