So we are 4 days in and the football has been pretty good so far. Brazil overcame early nerves to beat Croatia 3-1, with strong performances from Oscar and Neymar. Sets them up to win the group. Will be Spain, Netherlands or Chile in last 16 though.
Yes, Spain or Netherlands. Blimey! Who could have forecast the score, Spain 1 Holland 5? extraordinary. I missed the game, but saw the goals later. Van Persie and Robben on fire. Looking at the reports, Spain were in it for most of the game. They had two-thirds of the possession (when don’t they?). But Holland ripped them apart. Is this a crisis for Spanish football and the philosophy of tiki-taka? Are we seeing the sunset of the talents of Xavi and Iniesta. Is the baton about to pass from Barcelona to… er, something else… at national level?
Or is it just one of those things? We’ll see pretty quickly, as Spain have Chile – a very strong team – next. I’m going to stick with the view that this is a blip and Spain will qualify. The only problem is that we might get the World Cup final in the last 16. And is there a script being written here? Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid’s Brazilian who has opted to play for Spain. One of the top strikers in La Liga. Scores the winner for Spain, knocking his own country out of their home World Cup…
Could he ever set foot in Brazil again?
OK. On to England’s group, yesterday. First a shock. Costa Rica, the supposed minnows, beat Uruguay, potential finalists, 3-1. And deservedly. They beat the Uruguayans to the ball, and after going 1-0 down. Uruguay clearly missing the injured Suarez. The fact that he wasn’t brought on suggests his fitness is in doubt for quite a bit longer. Will he play against England on Thursday? Probably has to. Already in the group, the normal bets are off.
And so to England v Italy. We lost 2-1. In the heat and humidity of Manaus, in Amazonia. But that wasn’t the reason. England played pretty well. Roy Hodgson picked an exciting team, with Raheem Sterling the surprise choice in the No10 role, just behind front man Daniel Sturridge. Surprise, because it forced Wayne Rooney out of the two positions at which he is best.
We lost because Italy were superb. Pirlo, the old master, continued to weave his spells from deep. De Rossi swept up imperiously. Candreva and Darmian on Italy’s right – both new to me as we don’t get so much Italian football on TV these days – were powerful and incisive, exploiting England’s weakness on the left, with Rooney not covering enough and Leighton Baines looking a bit out of his depth, which was surprising. Ashley Cole – dropped from the squad – must have been watching and feeling, why am I not there?
Commentary on the night was pretty positive – even on Twitter. But today, people started to reflect, and of course the role of Rooney was the the central theme – for the third World Cup running! We just can’t make up out minds what we want him to do.
Last night he was in no-man’s land, a bit lost. He tried hard and actually made the England goal with a superb cross in from the left, which Sturridge converted.
We must beat Uruguay on Thursday. A draw might be enough, if other games then go our way. But we must go for a win, in my view. So Hodgson needs to be bold and decide once and for all, what is the best team to play the system he wants to play. If it is 4-2-3-1, then either play Rooney as the striker (maybe pushing Sturridge into the 3, on the right), or put him in the hole, or leave him on the bench, to come on with thirty minutes to go if Sturridge or Sterling are struggling.
I’m also a bit worried about the two deep midfielders. Stevie Gerrard was subdued, and Jordan Henderson looked a bit lost. Things got better when Barkley and Wilshere came on. I must say, though, that I was surprised that James Milner wasn’t brought on to shore up the left midfield.
So, on current form, what is our best team? Only Roy really knows, but here is how I’d start against Uruguay. It’s a 4-1-3-2, which really isn’t much different to a diamond-shaped 4-4-2. The sort of thing Liverpool were trying at the peak of their form in the Premier League.
Hart – Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines – Gerrard – Milner (left), Barkley (centre), Sterling (right) – Rooney, Sturridge, the two of them alternating between 9 and 10, causing confusion – hopefully to Uruguay rather than their own team!
I wanted to put Jack Wilshere in, but I think we need the solidity and experience of James Milner in there, allowing Baines to roam forward without fear. Jack will come in off the bench.
Danny Welbeck is unlucky to be excluded, but we need to see if Sturridge and Rooney can work as a pair.
I can guarantee that this will not be the next England selection!
So off now to watch Argentina play Bosnia-Herzegovina. I fancy a Messi hat-trick!