So, two days on, how’s that Group of Death looking? The Todesgruppe as the Germans call it. Love those compound nouns.
England find themselves in Group D, with Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. With their first game, against Italy, to be played in the sweltering Amazonian heat and humidity – is that laying it on thick enough? – of Manaus, a city most of us had never heard of until Roy Hodgson started worrying about it recently.
Our expectations were low anyway. But after the draw, the feeling was that advancing out of the group was well nigh impossible. Especially with that heat and humidity. You see, heat and humidity does not suit the basic English game, which involves hopeful passes which often don’t reach the intended target. That means running around a lot trying to get the ball back, making fearsome tackles etc. This is fine in the temperate climes of the British Isles. It is not recommended in the heat and humidity of Brazil, especially Manaus.
We are then worried about Uruguay because they have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. And Italy, with the master footballing quarterback, Andrea Pirlo, and the wacky but brilliant Mario Balotelli. We haven’t bothered to worry about Costa Rica yet, but we will…
So we are not even going to get out of the group… or are we? Uruguay only came fifth in South American qualifying and had to enter a play off with Jordan. (Jordan? It’s FIFA’s bizarre scheme where a South American team plays a team from “Asia” – basically everything that doesn’t fit into Europe (including the old Soviet Union states), Africa and the Americas – for a place in the finals.) Italy were were unbeaten in their qualifying group, and we know how good they are in World Cups. But Pirlo, the magician, is well into his thirties, and is going to find the heat and humidity as difficult as will Stevie Gerrard.
So it’s not out of the question that if Roy picks a youthful team, with players who have grown up with foreign stars, playing a close passing game, leavened with a bit of experience – Stevie Gerrard and Ashley Cole, maybe Gareth Barry who is playing so well for Everton, Frank Lampard on the bench – we could nick a 0-0 with Italy, sneak a lucky win over Uruguay and then polish it off with a nervous victory over Costa Rica. Then the story gets better, because in the 16, we’d be playing teams from Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan. All decent teams, but beatable.
Then we’ll lose in the quarter finals, probably on penalties. Because we do.
So all is not despair, though I am looking on the bright side. Rationally, I think we’ll be very lucky to get out of the group. Roy will resign or be sacked and we’ll dream again of Jose Mourinho, unless it really has gone horribly wrong for him at Chelsea.
And if we get knocked out early, we can all start supporting Belgium. They have as many Premier League stars as England. Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Romeleu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini (shame he’s not still at Everton), Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Simon Mignolet, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli, and who knows, even Man Utd’s wonder boy Adnan Januzaj.
As for this Group of Death thing, does Group D really take the accolade? I don’t think so. Group G: Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana, is probably the toughest. German journalists are calling it the Hammergruppe – a tough nut to crack. But the Germans will crack it, en route to at least a semi final, I’m sure. Group B is pretty tasty too: Spain, Holland, Chile and Australia. Because Brazil is in Group A, this means that one of Brazil, Spain and Holland cannot advance beyond the 16. If nothing else, this shows that the draw – incomprehensible though it was, watching a screen with the sound turned down – wasn’t fiddled. Brazil, the home nation, will face a serious risk of being knocked out in the last 16.
As it happens, I think they will probably win the World Cup. A blossoming team, with home advantage. Argentina will be serious threats, and from Europe, Spain and Germany are most likely to be the main contenders, though you never know with Holland. And there’s just a chance that Belgium could surprise everyone.
Spain should be the favourites from Europe, but I just wonder whether this generation of great players has peaked. Whereas Germany’s are on the up: younger, more vibrant. But that heat and humidity will play a big part. The South Americans will be favoured.
Brazil it will be.