Today is normally a day where we look at a breaking news story and give you our spin on it. Unfortunately, the most exciting thing that has happened so far today is the news that Nemanja Vidic will miss Manchester United’s trip to Wolfsburg, Michael Ballack thinks Manchester City will do well and that Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to buy Ruud Van Nistelrooy. That’s it. Even I couldn’t make these stories any less boring if I tried, so I’m not even going to bother.
Instead, I’m going to look at England’s World Cup group. The draw on Friday evening was a typically over the top affair. You could tell Charlize Theron had about as much actual football knowledge as the average Arkansas farmer and so it was particularly appropriate that first out of the bowl (for it was not a hat) for England was the United States. This was followed, with a large cheer, by Algeria and then with an equal amount of rejoicing, by Slovenia.
Before we look at each individual nation the general impression has been that this is a good draw for England. Arguably the United States were the toughest team in Pot 2, I’d argue it was Mexico really, but in terms of other qualifying groups we have had in the past, it is certainly as favourable as I can recall for many a year. However the joy of having, what appears to be a ‘simple’ draw, should be tempered with the knowledge that all too often in the past we have underperformed in key games like this, as anyone who can remember the fiasco in the Trinidad & Tobago 2006 World Cup game where only a dodgy Peter Crouch goal and last minute Steven Gerrard shot spared our blushes. However this is a new team, a new manager and a new tournament so let’s take a quick look at who we face and if we should be worried. Or not.
United States : Our first game will be against the USA on June 12th. A Saturday evening. So if you have travel plans and don’t give a toss about football, that’s when to hit the motorways. The worst thing about drawing the USA is that we are going to be reminded about their 1-0 win in 1950 and that bloody Billy Connolly wannabee, Alexi Lalas, scoring against us when they beat us in 1993 in a warm up for the 1994 World Cup Finals, almost constantly up until the finals. As a team, the US are well organised, fit, physically strong but now allied with some excellent technical players like Clint Mathis, Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan. The most recent game between the nations saw England win 2-0 at Wembley and I have no doubt at all, every England fan, the manager and the players would happily take the same result next summer.
Algeria : England have never played Algeria, so to warm up for this game Fabio Capello wants us to face Egypt, the team who had to have a play off with Algeria to decide who qualified for the finals. I’m not really sure how similar Egypt and Algeria are in terms of players and style of play, I’d have thought Morocco or Tunisia may have been a little more similar, but what do I know? Algeria of course have a track record of causing upsets to seeded teams. In 1982 they defeated West Germany 2-1 and while England will no doubt be at pains to ensure this doesn’t happen, African sides in Africa are an unknown quantity. Majid Bougherra of Rangers is one of their better players, as is Nadir Belhadj of Portsmouth, however with weather and altitude on their side, I fancy England to win the game and win it well. Hopefully with two wins and six points in the bag we can move onto the third game knowing that it will be England Reserves taking to the field for the game with…
Slovenia : While any team who knocks out Russia must command respect (lets face it, England failed to do so for Euro 2008), Slovenia should not unduly worry Fabio Capello’s men. The 2-1 victory in a recent friendly showed us that, technically at least, the team is good in possession, however, there are obvious defensive flaws that England should be able to exploit. If the United States underperform and Slovenia play well, there is also the realistic prospect that this game may well be played out between the two qualifiers from the group to see who lines up against who in the second round from Group D. While we should be confident of beating Slovenia, the result for England in this game may matter less, than resting the players who will be key in the second stages of the competition. Players who we need to watch include Dalibor Stevanovic in midfield, Milivoje Novakovic in attack and West Brom’s Robert Koren, though he has been used more of a substitute of late. 19 year old Rene Khrin of Inter Milan could also make a name for himself at the finals.
So, it looks good on paper. Now Fabio has turn that optimism into performances on the pitch. If he does then England should qualify and qualify well. If he doesn’t, then England will not have deserved their place in the second round anyway. The draw gives us cause for confidence and optimism, but not arrogance and expectation.
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