International Football

World Cup Day Nine: A nation mourns and places faith in Italy

england fans“And remember, expectation is low,” said one of the BBC pundits – I think Gary Lineker, before England ran out against Italy. Five days later, the chickens came home to roost, probable elimination at the group stage. So why the long face? It’s not the end of an era, because there was never an era to begin with and this has been a long time coming. The gradual erosion of England as a credible international force has been getting stronger in recent years. Today, group elimination, tomorrow the struggle to qualify for the finals. England have become “specialists in failure”.

It’s not all Leonard Cohen, however, because Italy and Uruguay represented a tough group. Difficult to agree with the likes of Harry Redknapp, who dismissed Italy as average and Uruguay as poor. England never looked like winning either game. The “experts” tried to convince themselves that Luis Suarez would not be fit enough to cause too many problems, but once more he demonstrated that he’s one of the best – nearly as good as the Swede who sat in the stand smugly watching the action, the mighty Zlatan.

World Cup 2014 is a landmark for the England team – they have never lost two group games. And remember, nobody has ever qualified for the next stage after losing two games.

So where does Roy Hodgson go from here? He’s an honest broker, is Roy, and doesn’t deserve to be sacked. The FA won’t get rid of him because the England job is, to some extent, a poisoned chalice. Also, he has made the best use of the resources available to him. He could have done with John Terry (although it would be interesting to see how Rio Ferdinand would have referred to the Chelsea captain, leader, legend in the studio) and even Ashley Cole (ditto).

England will lick their wounds if they have to get the first plane back and start to think about the next campaign. But who will survive the fallout?

England careers at an end: Johnson, Jagielka, Gerrard, Milner, Lampard, Smalling, Lambert
The jury’s out: Henderson, Rooney, Welbeck, Wilshere, Foster, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Baines, Forster, Jones
Some mileage, but not long-term: Hart, Lallana, Cahill
Pencil in for 2016 and 2018: Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley, Shaw

It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that only half a dozen of the 2014 squad might appear in Russia in 2018 – if England qualify, of course. That’s about the same as the transition between 2010 and 2014.

Italy v Costa Rica
Everyone is discounting Costa Rica as possibles for the next stage. A draw with Italy will be enough to eliminate England mathematically and then CR will want to secure their place in the next round against Hodgson’s crestfallen team. Nobody sees Italy as potential World Cup winners, least of all Italy themselves, but they have enough savvy to win the group and avoid a “North Korea situation”. Furthermore, they are experts in slow progress through a tournaments.

Switzerland v France
Whoever wins will secure their place in the next stage. The Swiss continue to surprise, beating Ecuador in their first game in the dying seconds. France looked comfortable in their game against Honduras, with Benzema shaping up to be one of the possible stars of the tournament, goalline technology or not. The Swiss have not beaten Les Bleus since 1992 and they’ve never won their first two World Cup games. France need one goal to record their 100th World Cup goal (they scored the first back in 1930). It could be the best game of the day.

Honduras v Ecuador
The late show. If you have to miss one game today, it is surely this one.

Shaping up
Goals per game: 2.87 per game (2010 – 2.27; 2006 – 2.30)
Attendances: 51,488 average (2010 – 49,670; 2006 – 52,491)
Top scorers: Thomas Mueller (Germany), Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie (Holland) 3

 

 

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