The interviews and soundbites coming out of the England camp are very familiar. “The spirit is very good…we have been together a couple of years…if we play as we can…great bunch of players.” All meaningless comments, because every World Cup, every European Championship, the script is exactly the same.
For a start, “if we play as we can” is such nonsense. England didn’t romp through qualification, and their pre-tournament form has hardly uprooted trees – tepid draws with Ecuador and Honduras and a win against stay-at-home Peru.
Since qualifying, expectation has been tempered, but suddenly, England have a talented, young side that is going to surprise people – say the pundits. Expectation has crept into the narrative after months of making England the underdogs in Brazil.
In Manaus, England will face an Italian team that is also not expected to come home with gold. Their most celebrated player, Andrea Pirlo, is a veteran, and their best striker, Mario Balotelli, is as unpredictable as the English summer. Roy Hodgson has opted for Raheem Sterling, but there’s no place for Adam Lallana. Danny Welbeck has also been included. The rest is as anticipated.
After some scintillating stuff, England v Italy could well be the first anti-climax of the tournament. The Italian style is not one of all-out attack, and they are likely to be cautious and sit-back and wait for mistakes. It won’t be a classic, but a result of any kind will be good enough for England.
That’s because the result in Fortaleza, Uruguay 1 Costa Rica 3, has changed the dynamics in Group D. Costa Rica were supposed to be the whipping boys in the group, but they deservedly beat one of the more fancied sides, who had Luis Suarez watching from the bench.
Joel Campbell was the star of the show and if Arsenal were watching, they will surely make the 21 year-old part of their plans. Campbell’s “force of nature” performance and willingness to shoot at all costs was exciting. Uruguay were disappointing and sloppy – Suarez will surely be rushed into action soon.
With four goals coming in this game, and three earlier in the day as Colombia beat Greece 3-0, the total number of goals, 22 in six games played, makes for an average of 3.67 per games, the best since 1954. With crowds averaging over 50,000 2014 could be the best-ever in terms of attendances for a South American-based competition. It’s been a good start.