Bloemfontein or bust as England take the hard road to Johannesburg
THE old cliché “there’s no easy games in international football” is too often trotted out when facing the likes of Algeria or Slovenia, yet for England to win the World Cup that simple line couldn’t be truer: in the next fifteen days, they will most likely have to beat Germany; Argentina; Spain or Portugal; and then Brazil - only one of whom, Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro ’96, have they knocked-out of a major finals since 1966.
First up, then, are Germany, and though almost everyone will be highlighting the semi-final shoot-out defeats at Italia ’90 and at Wembley in 1996, England’s more recent record against Jogi Löw’s boys is a bit more impressive, winning 2-1 in Berlin one-and-a-half years ago, with at least half the starting XI that night set to feature tomorrow. Also in England’s favour is the style of the new-look Germany, playing with more flair yet less teutonic in defence; don’t expect a nil-all draw, if it goes to penalties it’ll more likely be after a 2-2 or 3-3 scoreline.
After Germany, come Mexico or Argentina, the form team in South Africa, Messi, Tevez and Higuaín taking apart Nigeria, South Korea and Greece with ease. Even Verón’s looking good, and Maradona’s been acting quite sane, the hilarious tiffs with Beckenbauer and Pelé aside.
Then, in the semi-finals, England will have to face Paraguay, Japan, Spain or Portugal. Spain have improved since their opening game defeat to Switzerland, though look shaky at the back, with the seven-goal Portugese both the joint top-scorers and possessing the meanest defence. Look for Ronaldo and co to shade it on Tuesday night, battle past Paraguay or Japan next Saturday and to (hopefully) face England Wednesday week.
In the final at the 84,490-capacity Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday July 11th, the winners of England’s half of the draw will face Brazil, for whom the draw, as if by magic, has opened up, or at a stretch the Netherlands, who always seem to look great in qualifying and turn on the style in the group stages yet have failed to perform in the knock-out rounds in recent years, losing to Portugal (twice) and Russia in their last three tournaments.
The last time England won the World Cup, “Out Of Time” by Chris Farlowe was number one in the charts...
...they’ll be hoping that’s the one thing they don’t run out of over the next four games as they strive to end 44 years of hurt and rush home the gold from South Africa.
• Sudáfrica 2010: Updated World Cup wallchart