England's Countdown to Rio - Part Four (The Draw)
Well, after the long-winged pantomime in Geneva, it could be a hell of a lot worse. We could’ve been drawn in the same group as the hosts and France. And by the lack of over the top jingoistic reporting by the tabloids, they are convinced we are going to struggle with who we will be playing !! Didn’t they same when the draw for last year’s European Championship was made? And didn’t we make the quarter finals with a so called ‘inferior’ squad, only to be knocked out on the dreaded penalties again?
I like this negative press. It lowers the expectations of the Jeremy Kyle watching tabloid readers who believe every word they print, and thus takes a multitude of pressure off the team. Sadly, us English believe we are a force in international football, and the truth is, we are not. Far from it. Our team is slightly above average, if the truth be told. If the World Cup Finals was the Premier League, Germany and Brazil are United and Arsenal, battling for the title regularly, while we are a club like Everton – full of the capabilities and potential, have a wonderful history of glory from long ago, occasionally making it through to the latter stages, but very rarely step up to the plate and show it. We have one paltry victory in the competition, gained on home soil an eternity ago, which has led us to believe we are world beaters. Well, we should be.
England has had some very fine and exquisite players pull on the white jersey with Three Lions on chest, and really we should have more trophies on display in Lancaster Gate, than a solitary copy of the Jules Rimet from 1966 (remember, Brazil have the original after winning it three times). With who Roy Hodgson has at his disposal, we should do it this time. As I said in a previous article, we need not eleven world-class internationals, but a team that play as a team. Players who play best in a certain position for their clubs, transferred straight into the national team. Playing guys ‘out of position’ as they are ‘useful’ isn’t getting us anywhere – our track record proves this. As for our opponents in the group stage next summer, here’s how I’ll think we’ll get on.
Italy – The world’s most defensive team. Italian football is all about keeping possession, and if they win 1-0 due to a goal scored in the first minute, and they put everyone behind the ball for the next eighty-nine, they are happy. I tried to watch the regular coverage of of Italian Serie A games that used to be broadcast on C4 back in the early nineties, but after seeing yet another rear-guard action from Sampdoria, I simply couldn’t take anymore of the excitement, and began re-cataloguing my mother’s postage stamp collection. Extremely stubborn to breakdown, very hard bordering on dirty tacklers, some of their squad prone to over-dramatics when tackled themselves which deserve an Oscar. We owe them one after they eliminated us from last summer’s European Championships. Result – 2-1 win (providing we’re not on the receiving end of any ‘questionable’ referee decisions, as England always but always does in big matches).
Uruguay – Typical South American flair, combined to Luis Suarez. Nobble the Liverpool forward early, and the game is ours. The English defence should be ready for him, as his brilliance is shown on ‘Match Of The Day’ every Saturday night. On their day, capable of beating Argentina and Brazil, so have our work cut out. Will attack more than the Italians, so will need to be ready to defend and hit them hard on the break. Rooney and Gerrard will have to be ready for our infrequent attacks, so they count when they happen. Result – 1-1 draw.
Costa Rica – Potential banana skin. Could be embarassing. Don’t want a repeat of what they did to Scotland in Italia ’90. Need to be treated with the utmost respect, like when we play the European minnows in our qualifying campaign. Will be most defensive team we’ll meet, so will be very frustrating. Discipline and patience the key words. Result – 2-0 win.
It’s not going to be easy, which is a good thing, as I’ve already mentioned, but we will progress and will not be on the first plane home. The opposition doesn’t really phase me, it’s going to be the travelling to and from games situation. During the South African campaign four years ago, it was this, combined with the ‘boredom’ factor which seemed to be our undoing. Some quarters of the press are already bleeting about the 1,500 mile distance from the English base to the stadia for the first fixture against Italy. That’s about the distance from Manchester to Ibiza – two and a half hours on a plane. If over pampered footballers can’t keep themselves amused for that period of time, remain relaxed but focused on the game ahead, they really do have a problem. Air travel is ace, as at least one of the trolley dollies is up for a bit of harmless flirting – it makes you feel good about yourself, and boost the ol’ ego. Even the obligatory male cabin steward, who is as camp as a row of tents at a boy scout jamboree, is up for some cheeky banter. It makes the journey pass quicker. The F.A could always drive them there by coach – the players then would have something legitimate to whinge about for a change.
Now then, we’ve made it through to the second stage, the first knockout round. Running my expert armchair supporter’s eye over who we’ll meet as winners of our group, it’s a toss up between Japan or Columbia. Either of these shouldn’t prove too taxing for our lads, providing they don’t get too complacent. We need to win our group, I hasten to add, as we’ll miss Brazil in the quarter finals, and meet them in the semi-finals instead. We should meet our neighbours from over the Channel in the quarters, la France. And when England reaches the final on July 13th, it’ll be the old foe, the age old enemy. Yes, you’ve guessed it – Germany. I know, you’ve all began believing I’ve taken leave of my senses, maybe been sampling something a tad potent and possibly illegal, or at best should go lay down in a cool, dark room for a few days. “England beat the French? Then the hosts – on their own patch? Then the best organised team in the world, wake up and smell the coffee, Stu – it’s not going to happen.” Same was said about a certain Midlands club who play in a sky blue kit in 1987, as they progressed through each round of the F.A Cup.
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