Before I get into major issue of this post, I’d like to post some stats.
England have earned precisely four points (or the equivalent) after two games in several competitions in the past:
Winners: 1966 World Cup – including a goalless draw with Uruguay in the opening game that got some less than favourable write ups in the press the following day.
Semi finals: Euro 1996 – including a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game that got some less than favourable reaction in the press the following day.
Quarter finalists: 1954 and 2002 World Cups, Euro 2012
Round of 16: Euro 2016
*1954 and 1966 World Cups: two points per win. Additionally there were only two group games in 1954.
Basically, when seen in the context of last night’s result against Scotland, every time England have won four points from two games in every major tournament since World War II, we’ve qualified for the next round. But if you were watching ITV last night, you’d have thought England had lost. I can understand Graeme Souness being pleased at how Scotland performed and Roy Keane did his best to be neutral but quite frankly Ian Wright was just saying the first thing that came into his head. I know everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I can’t be arsed to listen to post match speculation when it’s as knee jerk as that.
After the draw between Croatia and the Czech Republic at Hampden, the only way Scotland could qualify was by beating either England or Croatia. They failed to beat England and – just like against the Czechs on Monday – failed to score. Now Scotland will have to beat Croatia by two clear goals and hope other results go their way, including a decisive one at Wembley next Tuesday, With Austria and Finland having both already won three points and with Spain and Germany playing today. It’s an uphill struggle for them, but that’s really not our problem is it?
As for having only scored one goal so far, it’s not as if that’s unprecedented either: interestingly though, it’s only the fourth time in 24 tournaments that we’ve *not* conceded a goal in the first two games and the first time since the 2006 World Cup finals (Marcus Allbaeck of Sweden ended that particular run in the epic 2-2 draw in the last game).
As things stand after last night’s game, we’d be travelling to Denmark to meet Slovakia on Monday 28th June but as I mentioned the other day, don’t bank on it. I’m far from downbeat about England, largely because I’ve been a football fan for fifty years and we’ve been in far, far worse situations over that period.
But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Update: after Monday night’s result, England are through to the next round. With four points and with a game to spare. The record continues.
As some of you already know, we lost all the content from March 2013 but in some respects that was a blessing in disguise – it means we don’t have anything to refer to from the disastrous outings in the last two tournaments.
A bit like the England team itself in that case.
There are only five players in this squad that went to Brazil four years ago and so this is practically a brand new side – the veteran is Ashley Young, who is five months older than Gary Cahill despite having won 24 fewer caps – and the only teenager in the side is Trent Alexander-Arnold. This looks like a squad for the future, but time will tell.
That being said, England are currently 16/1 to win the whole thing – about right considering it’s been 12 years since we got to the quarter finals and 28 since the semi finals – but that’s a bigger price than both our Group G rivals Belgium and arguably the least impressive Argentinian side since 2002.
With all due respect to both Panama and Tunisia, for once I agree with both the bookies and the pundits: the group is been us and Belgium, but as we face the Red Devils last it may come down to who can score the most goals against Panama. The Belgians get first crack at that next Monday (BBC1, 4:00pm) before we take on Tunisia (BBC1, 7:00pm) so at least we’ll have an idea of what we need to achieve in our second game (against Panama, Sunday 24th June, BBC1, 1:00pm).
Goals are where the potential issues are: only Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck have scored more than ten goals in their international careers and – unlike previous tournaments – they aren’t going to get much help in that respect from the midfield. In some respects Kane is comparable to Romelu Lukaku – he’s two months younger and they have similar strike rates in international games – but we don’t have anyone like Kevin DeBruyne or even Marouane Fellaini behind them.
The other problem with Belgium might be familiarity. Eleven of the Belgian squad play in the Premier League and four of them belong to Spurs – that’s only one fewer Tottenham player than in the England squad. But it’s also worth remembering that since their fourth place finish in Mexico ’86, Belgium haven’t got past the second round in a European based World Cup Finals tournament since 1990. Here’s a reminder of the last time they got that far:
Assuming we do get out of Group G – and a draw with Belgium should probably be enough – our next opponents will be one of the qualifiers from Group H. That section has been widely predicted as the most open of all the groups this summer and I’d agree with that: although Colombia reached the second round in Italia 90, it’s been 36 years since Poland qualified from the group stage in a ‘European’ World Cup and neither Japan nor Senegal have ever done that. We could be in trouble if it’s Poland: they’ve been rated higher in than us in the ever reliable (!) FIFA rankings since February 2017 and although they’ve not beaten us for 45 years, records like that are made to be broken.
After that it’s anyone’s guess. As for predictions, I’d say that another unsuccessful trip to the quarter finals is probably on the cards but as long as the team performs at a better level than 2014 – not an unrealistic expectation – then the fans can be happy. A little bit of luck and we might even lose narrowly to the Germans yet again.
From a wider perspective, in the same way as winning the Champions League and the Premier League seem to have become competitions that only elite teams can win, I’m not expecting a ‘new’ name on the World Cup this summer.
However, it’s worth pointing out that no country has won consecutive titles since Brazil in 1962 and with some serious questions about the morale of the Germany squad following an ill advised photo session that featured Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan with the Turkish PM, the Germans might not retain their title.
Spain – who sacked their manager yesterday – have a dreadful record in European based tournaments and despite been written off, Argentina actually have a slightly better record than Brazil do when playing in European World Cups.
Like most of us, I’ll probably have a much better idea of who might win the whole thing in a couple of weeks time but the two teams I’ll be following are Brazil and France: the former because they have a point to prove after their disastrous semi final four years ago and the latter because – on paper at least – they have the talent to compete with the Latin Americans. The question with the French is whether Didier Deschamps can utilise that talent effectively.
Finally for now, here are a few games that could be worth following:
Potential Upset: Russia v Egypt (Tuesday June 19th, BBC 1, 7:00pm BBC1)
I know FIFA rankings can be a bit odd, but Egypt overtook Russia in June 2016 and even though it was against the Soviet Union, the Egyptians won their only previous meeting back in June 1991. I also think there’s the possibility of a surprise result in the game between Argentina and Iceland (Saturday, 7pm ITV) but that may be along the lines of Argentina not winning.
England’s possible next opponents: Poland v Colombia (Sunday June 24th, ITV, 7:00pm)
Four hours or so after England v Panama finishes so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Best game between two sides that may not qualify for The Round Of Sixteen:
Australia v Peru (Monday June 26th, ITV 3:00pm)
The assumption is that France and Denmark will qualify from Group B, but if anything upsets that plan then both of these teams might need to win to qualify for the next round: this pair are suspect defensively so there might be a few goals in a game that features two very colourful kits.
Most entertaining triple header: Wednesday 27th June
South Korea v Germany (BBC, 3:00pm, BBC)
Mexico v Sweden (BBC2, 3:00pm)
Brazil v Serbia (ITV, 7:00pm)
Brazil and Germany finish their group games on the same day. Although both of them should have qualified for the The Round of Sixteen, Serbia might need a point or three to join them. If South Korea v Germany starts getting out of hand, turn over to Mexico v Sweden on BBC2 because that’s probably going to be the game that settles the runners up in Group F.
Next scheduled post: a preview of England v Tunisia, which will be up at some point on Monday!