It wouldn’t be England without an absolute shambles of a match to start the tournament.
To be fair, they didn’t play too badly this time, the win over Paraguay 4 years ago was a worse performance. Obviously much of the focus will go on Robert Green, and there will be lots of people calling for him to be dropped, disciplined or executed. Personally I don’t see the benefit in dropping him now, Joe Hart would have been my choice, but Capello has made his and should stick to it. Some of the suggestions on TV that he should have been substituted at half time were utterly ridiculous.
For me, Shaun Wright-Phillips had a far worse game. As usual he failed to control the ball on numerous occasions and constantly gave the ball away through having no touch as well as absolutely no ability when it comes to passing a football. On top of that, he had a great chance to win the game towards the end and his shot was absolutely pathetic. He should not have been in the squad to start with, and he certainly should not have got anywhere near the pitch. The idea behind bringing him was presumably to stop the US full back getting forward, which did work to an extent, but there was the slight drawback of him being so bad England would have been better off playing with 8 men.
The positives were that Emile Heskey won everything in the air and was involved with every attack, including setting up Steven Gerrard for the goal. He did slightly let me down with his shooting, which was less than brilliant. That could be a problem later on in the tournament if England’s one good chance of the game falls to him. Gerrard himself played well in the centre, but his complete lack of positional discipline did mean that Frank Lampard had to be the holding player, limiting his effectiveness considerably. England will probably need his goals if they are going to get anywhere and he won’t score many having to sit back in midfield.
The other two games today were quite enjoyable, South Korea were impressive, very hard working but looked tidy in possession and put together some nice moves. Greece will be lucky to score never mind win a game, and Nigeria didn’t look particularly good either. The Korean right back, Cha Du-Ri, had an excellent game, probably the best of the tournament so far. Overlapped very well on that flank and may well cause problems for better sides as the competition progresses.
Argentina started with a win, though they should have won more comfortably. After 15 minutes there was a slight worry that the World Cup record score could have been smashed, but the Nigerians just about clung on thanks to an extremely poor finishing display from Gonzalo Higuain. By the end they had the odd chance themselves to equalise, which would have been incredibly undeserved. Without wanting to shoehorn Emile Heskey into every paragraph, maybe we should have a Heskey award for the worst shooting performance in the tournament - a sort of anti-Golden Boot. Already Higuain and Franco are battling it out with the big man for this illustrious title.
Germany enter the World Cup tomorrow, and you’d expect them to sail through without too much trouble. It’s not a vintage side but there are some exciting young players in their ranks, not least playmaker Mesut Ozil, who might well be a star of the tournament. Their main weaknesses are at centre back and up front. Miroslav Klose needs 5 goals become the leading scorer of all time at the World Cup, but only scored 3 for Bayern this season. Whereas at the back, Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich are not really great players, solid enough but could be exploited by small, mobile strikers.
As for the rest of the group, Serbia are a decent bet for second, and a potential round of 16 match with England. A side built on a solid defence with considerable experience all over the park, and the giant Nikola Zigic bound to cause trouble up front. Both Ghana and Australia cannot be completely ruled out. The Ghanaians managed to get to the Cup of Nations final in the winter, but are still without Michael Essien, a huge blow to their chances of qualification. Beating Serbia will be the only way to qualify as they are unlikely to pose too many problems for Germany. The same goes for Australia. Goals will be their problem, Tim Cahill aside there is a worrying lack of potency and the two teams they need to beat – Serbia and Ghana – are both solid defensively. If they can scrape 4 points they might just make it, but they just aren’t going to score enough to qualify.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Germans play, they should comfortably win Group D and I expect Serbia to take second.