I’ve been reading a right load of old guff this morning on the subject of who England would prefer in the second round of the World Cup. Would we rather it was Ecuador, because they’re not as good as Germany? Oh, hang on a minute – they’re in really good form at the moment. Or would we rather it was Germany? Oh, wait, but they’re the hosts, and they put four past Costa Rica, but we beat them 5-1 in 2001, and… Could I just take this opportunity to ask all of you to SHUT UP.
By the time that England walk out onto the pitch in Cologne this evening, they’ll know what they need to do, and the answer is… it doesn’t matter. If England want to win the World Cup, then they have got to beat whoever they’re lined up against – if that means Germany in the second round, Argentina in the quarter-finals, Brazil in the semi-finals and Italy/France/Holland/Whoever in the final, they’ve still got to beat them. If it’s Ecuador, Tunisia, Ghana and Burkina Faso, then they’ve still got to beat them. Of course there are pros and cons to every team that we could play between now and whenever we get knocked out. Of course it would be nice to have a nice easy stroll to the final without having to make too much of an effort. But it doesn’t usually work like that. If England win their group, then they are the best team in that group, and they will play the second best team in Group A. It may be Germany. It may be Ecuador. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
It’s crucial that England don’t go into tonight’s match with that sort of thing in mind. Regardless of anything else, there will be thousands of fans in Cologne tonight who deserve better. Many of them will have paid hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to get there and be in the stadium. Their loyalty doesn’t deserve England and Sweden playing out an Anschluss-esque 0-0 draw because that suits both teams. There will also be millions of people shouting and swearing at their television screens, willing England to win. These people (myself included) deserve better. Quite asides from that, there’s the small issue of the media backlash that another poor England performance will bring about. There are, so far as I’m aware, no definitive studies into this sort of thing, but I’m pretty sure that it can’t be a good thing for anybody.
With the shackles that have been placed on them with the concept of not qualifying for the knockout stages cast off them, England show go out all guns blazing tonight. They’ve got thirty-eight years of history against the Swedes to undo. I wouldn’t expect any favours from them if the roles were to be reversed, and it’s not far short of insulting towards them to think that they might be looking for that from us. A good, confident win would send the fear of God into quite a few teams. The English, whose hype appears out-strip their ability several times over, coming into form would be a great boost to all of us – players, management and supporters alike. And if we go down? Never mind. We’re still in the second round. No major harm done.
So, Sven. Play Hargreaves, Downing and Jimmy Saville if you like. But let them go out and play with the freedom to express themselves, and to finally make their marks on the tournament. I think we all deserve it.