World Cup 2010: England's Failure To Capitilise On Their Group Might Be Costly
England booked a considerably more difficult route through the competition by finishing second.
England's hopes of reaching a major final for the first time since their successful appearance in 1966 have taken a major blow with their lacklustre performances placing them second in a group that they would have been confident of winning.
Looking at the Castrol FIFA World Cup Predictor—which, as the name suggests, predicts the outcomes of games based on impartial information—we can see that had England finished first they would play Ghana in the next round, followed in all probability by Uruguay, then Brazil in the semifinal, and Spain in the final.
This outcome would have given England an excellent chance of reaching the semifinal, which even a loss in would have resulted in a potential third place finish—not ideal, but a definite improvement over their previous jaunts in a World Cup since 1966. Instead, this route is now given to the USA, and deservedly so.
Instead, now England can look forward to encounters with their fiercest rivals Germany, and should they pass that test, they would probably come up against their other fiercest rivals (England have several) in the shape of Argentina, followed by Brazil and Spain. A rather more intimidating test, I'm sure you will agree.
The confident and jingoistic amongst us see this as an opportunity to get one over "the old enemy," but England's defensive frailties and misfiring forwards means that the more thoughtful England fan will approach these fixtures with some level of trepidation.
Why all hope is lost
England would have to raise their game by a hefty level to deal with the likes of Mesut Oezil, Lionel Messi, and David Villa. Each of the teams to be faced have players capable of changing games by themselves—in the case of Brazil and Spain, several of these players are present.
England's defence has creaked alarmingly, with goalkeeping errors and centre-backs who are culpable of giving away dangerous free-kicks due to a lack of acceleration.
Rooney is a shadow of the player who scored 30-plus goals in the league this year. He looked better against Slovenia but still missed a chance that I'm sure he would have buried three months ago.
Why we can still win it
England is still a team stuffed full of talent, and a team who got out of the groups by only playing one half-decent game. If England raise their level, something that there is a lot of scope to do, they are capable of beating anyone on their day.
Rooney might have slowed, but if he plays he is still a danger, drawing defenders out of position and still capable of generating a piece of magic to change a game.
For all of our own defensive frailties, the Germans and the Argentinians suffer from them too, while the Spanish defence can lose concentration. Therefore, all of them are susceptible.
It is a huge ask to continue in this World Cup, but success breeds confidence and a win against Germany would certainly help in this respect. Easier said than done perhaps, but certainly not impossible. England must stay focused on the next game, avoid a mentally draining war of words, and let their football do the talking.
But if they do not raise their game, it may be more of a whimper.
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