England have once again given a poor account of themselves at a major tournament, while for the second consecutive World Cup, the champions have bowed out at the group stages.
By contrast, the Dutch and the Germans, along with the America’s contingent seem to be marching on. The Netherlands in particular are in formidable form following their 5-1 trouncing of Spain, and then showing great fortitude to overcome a stubborn Australian outfit that refused to go down without a fight. And here Tim Cahill’s first half equaliser deserves a special mention – power, technique, timing, placement – all are present and correct.
The Germans look similarly imperious, humiliating Portugal in a 4-0 thumping in their opening Group G match.
Getting back to Spain and their uncharacteristic exit from this year’s competition, and I realise this may sound a little too coincidental, but I had in fact predicted that they would not perform well this time around. Reason being that this is broadly the same squad that rose to glory in the Euro 2008 competition, meaning that a considerable portion of the Spanish contingent have spent seven or eight years in the side.
Consider that Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandes, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and David Villa are all in their thirties, and surely the time should have come (some time ago) for Spain to bring new players into the first-team fold. Casillas (33), Gerard Pique (27), Xavi (34), Iniesta (30), Alonso (32) and Torres (30) form the spine of the team, and the spine may appear to be arthritic should no fresh reinforcements be found to supply effective cover. Indeed, the younger, livelier players should form the base of the squad with experienced ones strategically blended in or providing the backup themselves.
Of course this squad has found great success in their time together, but there can be no room for sentiment in the pursuit of glory.
The English story is one that’s been told a few times over – ever the underachievers when it comes to the big stage. I really was hoping for a stronger showing from them this time around, but it simply seems destined not to be. Against Uruguay, it always seemed something was missing, something a little intangible. It certainly wasn’t desire as that’s never in short supply when England take the field, but I never got the sense that they were going to score, even when they did.
I initially felt that Glen Johnson had over-run his foray into the penalty area and that he took a touch too many, but in the end he did well to feed the ball to Wayne Rooney’s feet for the goal. Following Suarez’s second goal and subsequent sustained pressure from the men in white in the closing stages, you just felt somehow that England didn’t have it in them to level matters a second time around.
And again I have to stress that while the Barclays English Premier League is the most entertaining domestic league globally, and that by some margin, their national team appear incapable reflecting as much in major competitions. Even the USA, a country that always seems to have better things to do than pay attention to football (and even having the audacity to calling the game ‘soccer’), have surpassed England in recent World Cup events.
This is also strange as all major English clubs have academies set up to provide a pipeline for fresh talent to consistently filter through … but that’s a column for another time.
At the moment the Dutch and Germans have to be singled out for praise. Four years ago the German team was criticised for being young and inexperienced, and even so they still advanced to the semi-finals. That team has now come of age.
So this time around then, they may well be disappointed with anything other than a semi-final berth, but they can expect stiff competition for a place in the final four.
Brazil will be desperate to claim the title on home soil, while fierce rivals Argentina will be equally hungry to win it on enemy turf. And that may well be this year’s list of semi-finalists: Brazil, Argentina, Germany and The Netherlands.
Having that said, Brazil have been heavily reliant on Neymar to provide their impetus and could fall short should they have another off-kilter match as they did against Mexico. Of course the rest of Central and South America have performed well thus far: Costa Rica, Columbia, Argentina and Chile are all in fine fettle, so the aforementioned European nations may have a tough time of it yet.
Portugal, with one Christiano Ronaldo as their spearhead, will also want their name in the hat, but similar to Brazil, the Portuguese do tend to put a heavy weight CR7’s shoulders. In the event that their talisman is marked out of the game, as he was against Germany, the Portuguese are likely not to advance too far this year.
Africa’s hopes of success rested with usual suspects Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Cote D’ivoire and Algeria. Cameroon imploded in their 4-0 humiliation against Croatia and are already eliminated, while Ghana and Algeria harbour slim hopes of progression.
So the Ivory Coast and Nigeria will aim to fly the African flag high before it inevitably flies at half mast.