England and their fans, as well as checking on bleary eyes due to the 1am finish, are now waking up to the reality that under-expectation was indeed warranted all along.
As Roy Hodgson’s side adopted the age-old British trait of “honourable losers”, it was also obvious that the young team he is forging is a long way off being competitive. Italy didn’t have to break too much sweat, but they were able to handle whatever England threw at them. And the Italians will not, in all probability, trouble anyone in the latter stages, although we said that in 2006.
If England lose to Uruguay, and their extra-tight shirts, and the chances are they will come up against Luis Suarez, they will be on the plane home after game three. Can we be that surprised? Even Gary Lineker, as the teams kicked off, said: “Remember, there’s no expectation”, or words to that effect.
Result aside for the England faithful, the World Cup continues to set a good pace – a couple of shocks, some great goals, outstanding individuals and memorable moments. Not sure about Didier Drogba’s beard though…
What’s happening on Day Four?
Switzerland v Ecuador
Eyebrows have been raised higher than the Alps over Switzerland’s FIFA ranking – sixth. They’ve reached just four of the last 12 tournaments, but they were impressive in qualifying, winning seven and drawing three of their 10 games. Admittedly, they had a perishingly weak group, with Iceland finishing runners-up, but they are difficult to beat. Ecuador, meanwhile, have continental advantage, and they gave England a work-out in a 2-2 draw in Miami a couple of weeks ago. The two teams meet in Brasilia, the first time they have ever gone head-to-head.
France v Honduras
France are without Franck Ribery, but they will have too much for Honduras. All eyes will be on Paul Pogba of Juventus, a player who could return to the English Premier in the near future. Pogba is a precocious talent and he’s had a great season with the Italian champions. But there are other promising young French players, such as defender Raphael Varane of Real Madrid and Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann. The latter is a Premier Division target, so expect Arsene Wenger to show an interest.
Argentina v Bosnia & Herzegovina
The popular choice for the World Cup, aside from Brazil, is Argentina. Any team that has in its ranks Lionel Messi is always going to be among the front-runners. They know about one-man teams in Buenos Aires, because Maradona single-handedly won them the competition in 1986. Messi has a decent supporting cast, notably in the form of Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid. Bosnia are making their debut and a lot will depend on how effective Edin Dzeko can be at this level. But also look out for Miralem Pjanic.
Some stats to consider
Only one red card in eight games, versus 17 in the whole tournament in 2006 and 28 in 2006.
Goals per game now at 3.5 the best since 1958. Attendances averaging 48,211 compared to 49,670 in 2010 and 52,491 in 2006.
Six pointers for the sofa…
Men to watch: Paul Pogba (France), Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia)
Expect: Brazilian crowd to jeer Argentina.
Likely scores: Switzerland 2 Ecuador 2, France 2 Honduras 0, Argentina 3 Bosnia 1
Unlikely score: France 0 Honduras 1 (but remember Senegal?)
Count: How often Messi’s relative lack of international success is mentioned.
Most common camera shots: Messi shrugging his shoulders in exasperation as his team-mates fail to keep up with him.
April 29: Argentina – The Brazilian nightmare
March 5: Brazil 2014 may be Messi’s best chance
February 23: Despite some mad-cap ideas, we owe the French
October 2012: That headbutt, that statue