You send them off with their packed-lunch, new shoes and glint in their eye, but there’s so much to worry about; will they represents us well, will they score, will they score against England, will they play too well and attract transfer attention, will they behave themselves, will they make friends, will they get injured and come back to the club crocked, a hollow shell of their former self, will they fluff up good and proper thus utterly humiliating us all, there’s just so many permutations to fret over.
With this in mind, let’s track Everton’s World Cup hitherto:
Tim ‘USA, USA, USA’ Howard has been relatively steady thus far. His display against England was particularly notable. Though not tested extensively enough for our liking, he dealt capably with everything thrown at him and made some important saves; yes, Heskey blasted that chance slap bang down his throat, but Howard positioned himself suitably and held-on well, whilst demonstrating assurance and stability throughout the game – frustrating for England fans but, you know, it’s still quite nice to see Everton’s number one implementing a proportion of the frustration (the rest was duly delivered by England’s own limp performance).
Conceding twice against Slovenia wasn’t great, but Howard could do little to avert the goals. The defence was lax in allowing Valter Brisa to turn and take aim, before curling in a long-ranged effort, for Slovenia’s first. The second saw Ljubijankic comfortably beat the off-side trap and roll the ball under Howard. So, up to now, he’s been fairly solid behind a relatively loose defence.
Speaking of the USA, Landon Donovan may no longer be an Everton player, but for the purpose of this discussion he bloody well is, ok (especially since he starred and scored in his last match). Certainly, he looked one of the more threatening and dynamic players against Slovenia; also setting the come-back in motion, blasting the ball past Handanovic at his near post within minutes of the restart. But, despite overturning a 2-0 half-time deficit, Donovan and the USA had reason to be aggrieved when a potential winning goal was wrongly ruled-out.
Elsewhere, other players haven’t had such a great start. Tim Cahill was harshly sent off in Australia’s opening fixture, but he’ll at least have another opportunity in the final group game against Serbia. An Aussie legend and the current talisman – having scored their first ever World Cup goal against Japan in 2006, whilst boasting an impeccable goals to game ratio (currently 20 goals in 41 games) – he could yet have an impact in this World Cup and will be essential to Australia’s chances of progression. Steven Pienaar also hasn’t had quite the impact he might have hoped as South Africa look likely to fall at the group stages. He is, of course, one of South Africa’s prized assets, but playing in a team that was so comprehensively beaten against Uruguay makes individual vitality difficult. Conversely, he did actually feature more heavily on the ball during the defeat then the in the opening day draw.
The Nigerian duo of Yobo and Yakubu also look set for a premature departure having suffered two defeats. Taking the lead against Greece, Sami Kiata petulantly kicked-out, became yet another red-card victim, and Nigeria subsequently lost. Yakubu had a good opportunity when Nigeria broke on the counter but, somewhat unsurprisingly, missed. He’s actually looked to be getting slightly sharper than he was much of last season… but still seems, erm, ‘portly’, and you can’t help but get that Heskey-itus confidence deficiency when you see him bearing down on goal.
Lastly, there’s Johnny Boy: The beast, the brute, the bollocks, the beast’s bollocks, the beast’s big brutish bollocks…you get the idea. Johnny Heitinga was irrepressible and invaluable for Everton last season and rightly found himself in the Dutch starting eleven. His versatility has ensured a place in defence and his robust and reliable style has probably epitomised and personified much of Holland’s campaign. Indeed, we were all expecting to see a beautiful and dynamic Dutch masterclass – at least I was anyway, sorry to lump you into the collective – but they’ve in fact been steady and systematic; still, two wins from two = success.
So, up to now it’s been a mixed bag for Everton’s World Cup stars, but at least Jagielka and Baines weren’t part of Friday’s shower…
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