Taking a break from politics and one way streets, here’s look forward to the World Cup next month. No matter what happens as far as England are concerned, someone will say that they predicted it all along. So here’s my shot at making sure I can say that, with a set of the most plausible scenarios for the group stage.
“Just not good enough”
England wilt in the tropical heat of Manaus, with Italy notching up a comfortable 2-0 victory. Against Uruguay England have a better game, and take the lead mid-way through the first half. But goals either side of half time from Edinson Cavani leave England no way back. A fairly routine – and, by now, irrelevant – win over group whipping boys Costa Rica does nothing to improve the mood.
It might not be that bad, of course. It might, instead, be almost as bad…
With neither side willing to exert themselves in the Manaus heat, the opening game against Italy peters out into a nil-nil bore draw. A more open game against Uruguay features plenty of chances but only two goals, one for each team. Results in other games mean England need to win by at least two clear goals in their final game against Costa Rica in order to progress, and they start brightly by taking an early lead. But a goalkeeping howler lets the Costa Ricans equalise from a set piece just before half time, putting Roy’s boys back to square one. Pushing for the required two goals in the second half, England get one of them but just can’t force another breakthrough against a team with no ambition other than to park the bus.
Alternatively, there’s more than one way to make a mess of things:
“Defeat from the jaws of victory”
An opening game defeat to group favourites Italy is put behind them as England record a deserved victory over Uruguay, meaning a win over Costa Rica will see them comfortably through. But it all goes horribly wrong when England lose a defender to a red card following a horror tackle in the 18 yard area. Costa Rica equalise through the ensuing penalty, and England’s ten men can’t force another goal. Four points isn’t enough, as Uruguay grab a last-minute winner over Italy in their final game to put both them and the Italians through with six points apiece.
Then again, if things go the right way in the end…
After 0-0 and 1-1 draws respectively against Italy and Uruguay, England need a win against Costa Rica to progress. The game starts badly with Costa Rica taking an unexpected lead in the first ten minutes, and holding that lead until half time. England’s equaliser comes shortly after the restart, but the floodgates don’t open. Instead, a combination of Costa Rica’s backs-to-the-wall defence and some slipshod shooting from England’s strikers means that they enter the last five minutes staring elimination in the face. But Daniel Sturridge shows he’s learned from his Liverpool strike partner by going down just a bit too easily in the box, and Frank Lampard – on as a sub for the injured Steven Gerrard – puts away the penalty to take England into the next round.
And England’s luck can’t be all bad:
“Comfortable enough, in the end”
England get off to a good start against Italy with an early goal, but are pegged back by an equaliser in the second half and the game ends all square. In the second game, there’s a bit more margin for error as England take a 2-0 lead by half time. Uruguay pull one back midway through the second half, and England have some last ditch defending to do as the South Americans throw everything at them in the final 20 minutes. But luck, and the woodwork, is on England’s side and they hold on to the lead. A routine 2-0 win over Costa Rica cements their place in the second round.
And, just to round things off, what if it all works out?…
“You know, we might even have a chance of winning this thing…”
A set piece header by Gary Cahill, very much against the run of play, gives England a one goal lead over Italy early in the second half. With both sides tiring in the heat, England are content to sit back and let Italy wear themselves out first by doing all the attacking. The defence holds firm and England notch up an unexpected, but not undeserved, victory. The good defensive form continues into the second game where another 1-0 win is delivered courtesy of Steven Gerrard’s free kick in the first half. Finally, against Costa Rica, the strikers get their chance to appear on the scoresheet in a comfortable 4-1 win as England end the group stage in pole position.
I’m not going to say which of these I think is the most likely. And. of course, there are plenty of other scenarios as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these, or something pretty close to it, is what turns out to happen. What do you reckon?