Wednesday, June 21, 2006

England remain in lukewarm form

Well by hook or by crook we've managed to finish top of Group B, but once again the performance from England has raised so many more questions than it answered. This was supposed to be the game in which we really stretched our legs and showed the rest of the footballing world that we have come to win this tournament, but in truth we were lucky to escape with the point we needed in order to seal our second round date with the South Americans.

Sweden were the better side for long periods, and while we proved we are still capable of scoring (wonderful) goals, some of the defending we exhibited was nothing short of shocking. I have tried to dwell on the limited number of positives thrown up by the Paraguay and T&T matches, but now that knockout football is on the way and one mistake can throw you out of the tournament, it's plainly obvious that we just aren't playing well enough right now to cope with any of the top sides in the competition, sides that are now on the horizon as paths towards the final can begin to be mapped out...

As far as I can make out from the BBC's World Cup wall chart, we are likely to face either Portugal, or the loser from the Holland/Argentina match tomorrow in any hypothetical Quarter Final, and if we were to progress a stage further, then it is likely that we would run into Brazil, Spain or France. This is assuming that we dispose of Ecuador in the last 16, of course.

The Ecuadorians aren't really a side to be feared on paper. None of their players would get into the England squad let alone the England team, and of their three games so far they have only been the better side in one of them; that was against Costa Rica where they won 3-0. Poland walked all over them and somehow contrived to lose the match 0-2 back on the 9th June, whilst Germany should really have hit them for 6 yesterday.

They strike me as the sort of side whose heads would drop if they go a goal behind early on in an important game, and I don't envisage any problems for us on Sunday. Our players are vastly more experienced than theirs when it comes to pressure situations and as long as we are tight defensively, we will prevail. Gerrard will surely slot back into the centre of midfield in place of Hargreaves, whilst Owen's injury will more than likely mean Peter Crouch also returns. Walcott should come off of the bench at some point, and if he doesn't we really need to wonder why we bothered taking him in the first place.

With Owen out, Rooney unfit and Crouch just rubbish, the fact that Walcott continues to be overlooked by Eriksson is just an insult to The Premiership's top English striker, who could be forgiven a wry smile or two in light of the fact that the strike force he was omitted from has scored just one goal in three World Cup games.


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