Sunday, June 11, 2006
I've been avidly watching all the matches so far, by some distance; the best match has been last night's between Argentina and the Ivory Coast. It was a fantastic spectacle, really open, with some great skill on display from both teams. Ivory Coast look strong and pacy, a team of real athletes - Everton could do with signing a few Ivorians! Argentina looked like they were coasting for a lot of the game, they were deft, clinical and incisive, my pre-tournament thoughts that they were the real challengers to Brazil looks correct. As I also suspected, Holland might well not get out of this group. I can see them faltering to Serbia - who only conceded ONE goal in qualifying (and that was to Spain) and they will be lucky to take points from Argentina and the Ivory Coast on last night's performance. The Holland camp has already seen a few internal arguments - well, it is tradition isn't it, this will surely be a contributing factor. Group C seems to be by far the most interesting group.
England were very disappointing yesterday but the heat must have been a factor, especially with the opposition being a South American team - more used to the heat and effective in keeping possession. I felt that both England wingbacks were poor, Ashley Cole was particularly woeful and Paraguay were getting a lot of joy attacking him down the right. He offered us next to nothing going forward so I would have advocated taking him off for much more solid Carragher, Cole just doesn't look fit. Nor for that matter did Michael Owen, which is why it was strange he was taken off so early - surely if he's low on match fitness, he needs more time on the pitch to get back to the appropriate level? And why take him off for another midfielder and invite pressure on to ourselves? If Walcott isn't good enough to come on, Sven shouldn't have taken him ahead of Defoe and Bent or at least taken one of those two in addition to Walcott and at the expense of the redundant Jenas. Baffling! As was the decision to bring on Hargreaves ahead of Carrick...
As usual, the second half saw England settle on their lead and defend the game out whilst foolishly giving the ball away cheaply at almost every opportunity, Robinson was particularly guilty of this with his poor distribution and refusal to hold on to the ball for longer than 3 seconds. It doesn't bode well for the rest of the tournament but we don't play anymore games so early in the afternoon now and the players have got that difficult first game out of the way - we hadn't won an opening game since beating Tunisia 2-0 in France '98. The biggest help has been Sweden's failure to beat a determined Trinidad and Tobago side, meaning England can guarantee qualification to the second round with a win over T&T on Thursday. Hopefully after running themselves in to the ground against Sweden, the players will be tired, we shouldn't bank on that though and need a confidence boosting performance ahead of a tough game with Sven's homeland. Positively, no-one in Group A looks overly impressive and hopefully England can count on making the quarter finals at the least.