Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup: Week 1

Well the first week of the greatest sporting event in the World is over and it's more than lived up to expectations. As always, many of the favourite teams have started sluggishly meaning that the unfancied sides have had a chance to show us what they can do.


The favourites started poorly against Croatia but still got the result they wanted. It was a pretty typical start for a team that often have too much to live up to. Unlike the sycophantic BBC commentary, I have no issue criticising the heavily over-rated Brazilian team. Don't get me wrong, on paper they are the best team in the World, but by no means does this mean they are gonna win it. Croatia illustrated quite clearly how weak their defence is and a better strikeforce would surely fancy their chances of scoring. Plus, with Ronaldo looking extremely poor atm, I don't think this World Cup is a clear cut as many people think.

The best so far

For me, four teams have looked to have hit the ground running. Argentina started it on Saturday with a good 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast. They struggled in the latter periods, but for 60 minutes they looked every bit the finished article. Meanwhile Italy were fantastic against a very exciting Ghana side. In the same group the Czech Republic proved that the USA really don't deserve a World ranking of 5th with a stunning 3-0 win. However, we had to wait until the final group kicked off to see the performance of the tournament. Spains 4-0 demolition of a highly rated Ukraine side has sent a warning out to the other 31 teams that Spain may finally be ready to shake off the mantle of perennial under-achievers.

The worst so far

There really can be only one team here. France. The World Champtions 8 years ago are living on borrowed time. Their team is old and laboured and you almost feel sorry for those once great players struggling to keep pace with the game. If they go out in the first round it wouldn't surprise me. They were awful against Switzerland and deserved to lose. I'm guessing they'll take the 0-0 and hope to build on it.

The hosts

Germany have been in transition ever since Jurgen Klinsmann took over. I really respect his efforts to change the philosophy of the German game. Unfortunately, it is a long road and so far they have failed to impress. The opening game was a great match for neutrals, but too often did Germany look like they could concede goal after goal. With Ecuador playing so well, there could still be a shock in store that may result in England having to face Germany in the second round.

The others

The African nations have failed to impress despite some spirited performances. Ivory Coast look good, but are in such a difficult group that I can't really see them progressing. Holland and Portugal may be amongst the favourites, but I question whether Holland can actually play well as a team, while Portugal seem very average (although I wouldn't discount the tactical brilliance of their manager, Big Phil Scolari).

Australia were magnificent to come back against Japan, but I find it hard to imagine them getting out of a group that also contains Brazil and Croatia.

And finally, to England

England have been poor so far, yet have played 2, won 2 and are already into the second round. I'd have taken that at the start of the tournament. England haven't started so well at the World Cup in my own living memory. However, serious doubts remain. Despite having a team that is probably second only to Brazil (on paper), England have failed to perform well since the last World Cup and the abysmal defeat by Brazil.

Englands problems have nothing to do with Wayne Rooneys absence (we play poorly with him in the team too!). The problem is tactical. Eriksson learnt his trade in Italy and as such has spent the last few years trying to get England to play like Italy. This is a moronic move. England have always played better when they are playing with a sense of urgency. We do not defend well in numbers, it is not a part of our game. This was the problem against Brazil in the last World Cup. It was the same problem in Euro 2004 and it was the same problem in the second half against Paraguay last week.

Despite this, I firmly believe England can win the World Cup. Why?

  1. We have, for the first time in 36 years, a World class team with World class players across the field.

  2. We are playing poorly but still winning. This is the hallmark of World Champions.

  3. All of the other top teams have got similar problems.

However, I do think that to win the World Cup Sven will need to improve his tactical substitutions. Yesterday, we finally played well when Sven made an inspired substitution. No, I'm not talking about bringing Rooney on for Owen (a move I still feel was a mistake). It was the introduction of Aaron Lennon that changed the game. He scared the life out of the T&T defence and hauled Beckham into the game.

Anyway, it's been a fun week. I can't wait for the Holland v Argentina game next week. While Germany v Ecuador could yet provide the first big upset.

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