World Cup 2006 – The Story So Far

I didn’t necessarily expect to be writing this at this stage, but…

It’s been good, hasn’t it? Really!

So often, the World Cup flatters to disappoint, but just for once, that old phrase “feast of football” is actually useful. Almost every match has been marvellous. What’s going on? Whatever it is, let’s hope that like Euro 2000 it keeps on going (great tournament, horrid final).

The only team not to impress me at all have been France. I’ve been most bored by Angola, but I’ll forgive them. Deciding who have been the most impressive has been far harder. It’s not Argentina. They’ve played the most attractive football, and scored the goal of the tournament, but… in both of their matches, they’ve had great assistance from the officials, they’ve been given huge space to play, and the one time a team have come at them (poor Ivory Coast) they found it very, very hard to live with: had the Ivory Coast possessed a calmer head in front of goal, the result, and the whole tournament, would look very different.

No, my most-impressive team are already out – astonishingly, but there it is. Ivory Coast have shown verve, courage, skill and no small amount of sportsmanship in their two narrow defeats. They more than matched both Argentina and Holland, and as I’ve said, only the lack of a top striker (they had a brave, never-say-die leader of a striker in Drogba, but he’s no Owen or Crespo) prevented them coming away with maximum points. In Yaya Toure, they have a superstar of the very near future, and the whole team is young enough to come back better next time. They will inflict appalling damage on the ruined Serbia-Montenegro squad in the final match, and go home with their heads up.

Aforesaid Serbia are second to France in the disappointment stakes. A good team – disrupted by some significant injuries, especially that to Vidic in defence – should do better than undergo that kind of psychic collapse (one for everyone who comments here saying that sports psychology is bunk).

England have neither inspired nor worried me thus far. As I wrote here a while ago, I regard this team as one who tend to “float” through games against mediocre opposition, and so it’s proved. I’m hoping for Germany in the next round – if it’s Ecuador, the danger is there that England will only half turn up again. It’s overconfidence, not lack of motivation per se. The other side of that particular coin is that England, like Brazil, are opposition that provide lesser teams with “peak of our career” type experiences. That’s why teams so rarely fold before England in the way they might do to Argentina or Holland – playing England (or Brazil) matters for its own sake, and no player wants to walk off after ninety minutes against either of the founders or the masters of the game without having played like they have never played. England’s opposition play chock-full of meaning, whereas for England the same fixture will be an awkward chore with no glory on offer but much potential humiliation. Not “embarrassment” as John Motson kept putting it; Trinidad and Tobago had to qualify for the World Cup just like everyone else, and proved against Sweden that they possessed both high morale and a very good defence.

Owen’s form is a nuisance, and I wonder about his being substituted, even for Rooney, just when there were signs against Trinidad that his magic rhythm was coming back. He should be given ninety minutes against Sweden, in partnership with Rooney.

My response to comments in the press calling for England to play with a holding midfielder is that Gerrard has performed that role quite adequately so far. England have played recently with Carrick or Carragher in the holding role, allowing Gerrard to move forward, and I’m expecting that to be the pattern against Sweden on Tuesday – it’s the sort of game that formation’s been put together for.

Or, we could do this.

2-3-5:

Robinson

Ferdinand Terry

Beckham Lampard Ashley Cole

Lennon Rooney Owen Crouch Joe Cole

I know, but wouldn’t it be fun…..

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