World Cup Football
know, I know, England’s World Cup draw is a lot better than anyone could have ever hoped for – Paraguay, Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago – but the fact remains it’s a tough group. Yes, it’s heaven compared to what the Dutch and Argentinians face but we really shouldn’t get too excited just yet. A lot of people think Paraguay are going to be a walkover but I’m not convinced – being the opening game, I think it’ll be very tight. I’ve seen Paraguay twice in the last year and they’re a very direct, physical team. Also, they’ll have striker Roque Santa Cruz back, who’s been out injured for Bayern Munich for quite a number of months.
And while Trinidad & Tobago shouldn’t present too much of a challenge, Sweden are a very decent side at the moment, with some great strikers, including Henrik Larsson. He’s back playing – and scoring – for Barcelona after quite a long break due to injury, and should still be fresh and flying by the time the World Cup comes around.
That said, I still expect England to qualify comfortably – though maybe not by winning the group. A draw with Sweden and wins over Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago ought to be enough.
One concern for England is that some key players are peaking too early. Just look at Rooney, Owen and Joe Cole’s club form right now – they’re all flying. I’d have preferred to see them peak later in the year. Sometimes players have a threeor four-month period where everything’s going great for them, they’re feeling really good, but then their form just dips. Remember before Euro 2004 how Rooney missed lots of games for Everton, ending the season on the bench all the time? He then went to the Euros and was on fire.
Early birds are knackered
Sven Goran Eriksson would probably like these players to have a dip in form for a few weeks – I’m hoping they get rested for a few days. Either way, what happens between now and the end of the season will be intriguing – and could prove key to England’s World Cup hopes.
Rest or not though, I’m not sure about Rooney’s chances of getting the Golden Boot. 18/1 with Skybet might sound like good value when you think that he got four in bet on football Euro 2004 and has already bagged nine this season, but it seems to me that he overachieved in the goal-scoring stakes in that tournament.
He’ll always get his fair share but he’s not a one-in-two man like Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who’s widely available at 14s. I see Rooney getting maybe two or three.
Taking the Michael
If Owen is firing on all cylinders then he could be a better bet – you can get him at 14/1 as well. Look at the records for the pair of them over the last few years and Owen comes out on top nine times out of ten.
What could still hamstring England’s chances is the fact that Sven lacks the ability to make big decisions – the kinds of decisions that mean you’re defined as a genius or an idiot. He’s certainly trying for the former – I’ll give him that. For instance, when they played Argentina recently I was really pleased to see him make substitutions – such as bringing on Crouch and Cole – that showed he was trying to win the game, even though it was only a friendly. Lots of managers just make substitutions for the sake of it, but there’s no real backbone to what they’re doing.
In my mind Peter Crouch still has a lot to offer. He’s a player’s player and his team-mates will appreciate him whenever he’s on the pitch. Okay, so he probably won’t usually be in the starting lineup but he’s a great option to have. He’s taken an awful lot of criticism but is starting to score goals now, which will do wonders for his confidence. I’m pretty sure he’ll have a much better second half of the season.
Less than the sum of their parts?
The bottom line is that while England might have the most talented players of any of the European teams, Brazil are still the ones to watch. Ronaldinho, Robinho, Kaka, Cafu, Carlos – they’ve got so much ammunition. And we haven’t even mentioned Ronaldo yet. He might look overweight and out-of-sorts at Real Madrid but the fact that he’s favourite to win the Golden Boot at 9/1 says it all – he’s still a very talented striker.
Remember that when you play South American teams, because of their style of play and moments of magic they can produce individually, you’re sometimes going to have to ride your luck, hoping they don’t take all their chances. Anyone who’s played Brazil will tell you that you can do as much great defending as you like but suddenly Ronaldinho picks up the ball, does something unbelievable and sticks it in the top corner.
My tip right now? If you can still get Brazil at around 4/1, that’s good value. Their record roughly translates to winning one in three World Cups. No one else even comes close.