Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Group B decided:

So England finish first, and Sweden second with Paraguay and a finally eliminated T&T bringing up the rear. Both England and Sweden remain unbeaten at WC06 and move onto new challenges.

England 2-2 Sweden

A great game for the neutral. End to end stuff!

1st off - an England injury update. Owen crawled off the pitch in the opening minutes, was stretchered away and is due for a scan on Wednesday. The likelihood is that his tournament is over. Rio Ferdinand was subbed for Sol, after suffering a minor groin injury and is doubtful for the clash with Ecuador. Neville looks like continuing being out as well. Rooney looks fighting fit touchwood but came off after 70 mins so as he wasn't overworked. How big a factor will the loss of Michael Owen be? He's looked ring rusty and not match fit at the tournament but he's a player with a big match temperament - remember rge old adage: form is temporary, class is permanent. It is a big blow, but how big? Who knows! And will Sven be bitten on the bum for only taking 4 strikers: Now no Owen (possibly), Rooney on the road back, Crouch doing a decent job (for a giraffe!) and Walcott who Sven seems loathe to introduce. No Bent, Defoe or Ashton? Well I guess England will have to rely even more heavily on the midfield for goals.

The game

England: An impressive first half performance. Joe Cole was excellent, liking to run at the defenders (with more stepovers than Christiano Ronaldo!) and generally having a stormer. And what an outrageously brilliant goal. I could watch that one over and over again! Floated lob, ah sizzling indeed. An element of luck? Regardless, a touch of class! England deserved their 1-0 lead but how long is it going to take Lampard to score. 8 shots in the last game. 4 in the first half of this, surely the floodgates will open soon, he never misses so many for Chelsea! And even though Crouch was forced to come on early the tactics didn't change, the ball passed nicely along the ground. Rooney showed England had been missing a link man and ran his socks off for the cause.

A game of 2 halves though has never been a more apt cliche! In the second period England were for the most part diabolic. Shambolic. A pub team. The defence was shaky, unable to cope at corners and could have conceded a few. Robinson whilst pulling off a top class save typically never commanded his penalty area. Gerrard's introduction for Rooney proved to have some good consequences even if TV cameras showed the world Rooney at his angry, petulant best. Good to see the passion in his bodylanguage though. Anyway, Gerrard --> a goal line clearance and a well taken headed goal on a rare foray forward (from a Joe Cole pass too - although he didn't have a great half overall). Surely they would win at 2-1? No, a very very sloppy goal that wasn't dealt with by Terry, Campbell, Robinson or Ashley Cole ensured the match would finish a draw and England would have to wait more than 38 years for a victory over Sweden. Hargreaves had a good game as he tried to silence his critics, most of whom have never seen him play for his club side Bayern Munich.

Sweden: offered little in the first half, offered more in the second. However perhaps this was a result of England's shoddiness rather than any real improvement on their part. Allback, Ljunberg and Larsson started to give glimmers of the form of which we know they are capable. Allbacks headed goal went at such a speed Ashley Cole was unable to clear. The introduction of Wilhelmsson also aided their attacking threat. I don't know if Sweden will be able to match Germany, I sincerely hope they can give them a good run for their money and win but there are doubts. Maybe Ibrahimovic can make it back for this game. People talk about Sweden too little. They are an underrated side with quality players although the team has lacked form this year. Most people forget but they did finish 3rd at the 1994 world cup and are always a tough game. It should be a fascinating second round affair!

Thankfully as I recall, no-one picked up suspensions for the round of 16 game.

Paraguay 2-0 Trinidad and Tobago.

This match could have had a bearing on the group. Had England beaten Sweden a win here fo T&T would have given them a chance at qualifying. However this was never going to happen. Kelvin Jack in goal did mighty well to keep the game at 2, and Paraguay finally showed what they are capable of. A Brent Sancho own goal and a well worked effort from Cuevas after good interplay with Santa Cruz gave Paraguay the win. Caniza's effort was wrongfully disallowed too. The crowd went crazy every time T&T attacked, and again Dwight Yorke looked at home in his new midfield role. But they never really looked like scoring.

So both these teams eliminated. Paraguay were disappointing overall, unable to emulate their heroics of the last two world cups in which they qualified for the round of 16 only to suffer late 1-0 losses. Trinidad & Tobago can return with their heads held high. Mostly made up of players from England's lower leagues they certainly did not disgrace themselves!

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