11 June, 2006

England Expects: England 1 Paraguay 0

This England team, we are told, has the best chance of winning the World Cup since 1966. We have been told the same thing in virtually every tournament since 1966, including the ones England didn't qualify for, and it is always difficult to believe.

It seems typically unlikely that England will take the trophy in 2006, despite the media's assertions. Only a handful of players in the squad are at anything remotely like their peak, and some of those are injured. There is no question that Group B is tougher than the press would lead us to believe.

Having said all of that, England clearly ought to qualify for the next round, and the fact that they are unlikely to go much further is one that can wait for future consideration. In the opening minutes England assert their authority. The Paraguayans seem not to know where their own feet are, and an early Beckham free kick leads to a soft goal, deflected off the head of Carlos Gamarra. Shortly afterwards the Paraguay keeper is forced to make way for his understudy, and at this point it looks easy.

Following the goal Paraguay regain their composure. England remain dominant but there is little to recommend their performance for the rest of the first half. Crosses are wayward and there are too many aimless shots from distance, particularly from Steven Gerrard who blasts over the bar on three occasions and is clearly short of fitness. Paraguay have little difficulty in preventing a further goal, but struggle to make headway at the other end of the pitch.

During half time, back at the TV studio, the pundits, particularly Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer, are mystifyingly positive about England's performance. It is difficult to understand how they could reach this conclusion after such mundane play. Only Frank Lampard has demonstrated any flair, and the deciding factor so far has been the poor quality of the opposition.

England improve marginally in the second half but look far from being potential champions. The so-called star players are ineffectual, especially Michael Owen who is replaced by Stewart Downing, a surprisingly negative substitution.

As the game moves towards full time it descends into a tedious midfield bounce around the halfway line. Neither team seems particularly keen to score. The referee does the game no favours, disrupting the game unnecessarily in places but letting clear fouls go unpunished. His decisions go largely Paraguay's way, in some cases controversially, but ultimately this has little impact on the match.

Three points are won and progression looks likely, but England have looked weak. They will need to improve if they are going to progress in the later stages.


Baz said...

downing was hardly a negative substitution considering Sven forgot to bring any strikers.

Baz said...

Blame it on the weather? It's not just our players that say so: http://lionslionslions.blogspot.com/2006/06/blame-it-on-weather-man.html


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