Sunday, 8 December 2013

Not Easy

All roads lead here - The Maracana will host next years World Cup Final

Four years ago, the draw for the World Cup was received with some delight in English quarters.  It was perceived that in drawing the USA, Algeria & Slovenia, England had been given a good draw.  They’re not thinking that now that the draw for next years World Cup in Brazil has delivered England’s hardest draw since Italia ‘90.

First up for England will be the side that knocked them out of the European Championships last year. Italy’s win on penalties in Kiev will give them the psychological edge going into this tie.  Italy will need no introduction, with their most recognisable player being the former Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli.  Whether the change of kick off time from 9pm to 6pm local time will help or hinder both sides remains to be seen, the match will be tacking place in Manaus in the Amazon region of Brazil.

England’s next match isn’t any easier, even though it will take place in the cooler south.  Uruguay were semi-finalists four years ago, and won the Coppa America two years ago.  At least two of the three man forward line that got them to the semi’s will be there.  Of course one of the survivors is Luis Suarez, now of Liverpool, who bagged key goals against Mexico & South Korea.  The other survivor will be Paris St Germain’s Eddison Cavani.

England’s last group match will be against the seeded minnows of this group.  However, the name Costa Rica still sends shivers down the back of Tartan Army foot soldiers nearly a quarter of a century on from Cayasso, Conejo & Co’s shock win.  That tournament was the only time they reached the knock our phase of the World Cup, they beat a dispirited Sweden as well before a heavy loss to Czechoslovakia.  Since then, they were piped to qualification by Turkey (in 2002) and Ecuador (in 2006) after opening that tournament against Germany.

This is a hard draw for England to get.  Should they qualify though, England will play either the winners or the runners up from Group C.  This group consists of Columbia, Ivory Coast, Japan & Greece.  Not an insurmountable obstacle, however the hazards in wait in the quarter final stage may well spell the end for England.  If England somehow win this group, they will be seeded to play either Brazil or the Netherlands.  If England finishes runners up, they will be seeded to face Spain.

England’s group is tough, but there are other interesting groups that have been thrown up by this draw.  The holders Spain (right) begin their defence of the World Cup against the side they beat in Johannesburg four years ago, The Netherlands.  The highly fancied Chile, who were also drawn in the same group as Spain four years ago, and Australia make up that group.  Brazil open the tournament against Croatia on 12 June, while the team that topped our qualifying group – and many people’s fancy as dark horses, Belgium – find themselves in a group with Algeria, South Korea and Russia.  Unfortunately for Belgium, their second round tie (should they qualify) will be against the survivors from group G – Germany, Portugal, Ghana & USA.  Arguably Group G is a tougher group to call than England’s group with lots of little sub plots going on.  Not least Jurgen Klinsman’s reunion with his former assistant during the 2006 World Cup.

To return to England though.  This is a tough group.  Funnily enough, there’s little in terms of past results between these teams.  England have only faced Italy in a World Cup finals match in the third place playoff in 1990 (Italy won 2-1 in Bari), though they did play each other in qualifying for both the 1978 (Italy wining 2-0 in Turin, England winning 2-0 at Wembley) & 1998 (Italy winning 1-0 at Wembley, 0-0 in Rome) tournaments.  England’s last finals match with Uruguay goes back further as this tie opened the 1966 tournament. 

While this group is a hard group, it is not impossible for England to escape.  Maybe the best thing to come out of this draw is that it will temper the hubris that instantly inflates whenever England reach the finals of a tournament.  Maybe we will see a more sober assessment of their chances than we have seen in many years, that those chances are not good. In short, there will be no emperor like there has been in 2002, 2006 & 2010, which might not be a bad thing for Hodgson.

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