Friday, June 16, 2006

Day 7 Review

I'm beginning to hate Ecuador. Oh don't get me wrong - I've got nothing against the country or its people 'per se'. It's just that their football team do insist on winning all the time, or at least they have since the start of this World Cup. That alone wouldn't normally cause me any emotional imbalance, but at this precise moment in time, they're standing between me and many hundreds of pounds in winnings from Ladbrokes.

Before the tournament began, my two colleagues and I wagered £1 each on eight teams finishing bottom of their repective groups, and guess who we had for Group A? That's right, our South American chums, Ecuador. And to add insult to injury, we also had a quid each on the teams we thought would finish first and second in each group. Did we have Ecuador down for Group A? No.

The fact is that Ecuador have now won both of their first two games and are assured of qualification through to Round Two along with Germany, who have done likewise. Contrary to popular belief, Ecuador have proved themselves capable of playing excellent football and can put the ball in the net with consumate ease too.

Costa Rica, reeling from their opening defeat to Germany, were outplayed throughout yesterday's first game and not even the on-form Paulo Wanchope could stop his team crashing out of the competition. For Ecuador then, their last match in Round 1 against Germany will decide who finishes top of the group, and that could be critical as England will no doubt await the runners-up in the next round.

That much is almost certain after England virtually secured top spot in Group B following another decidedly ordinary display against Trinidad & Tobago. Just as against Paraguay, England struggled to break down the opposition, only this time they didn't have the luxury of an early goal to act as a safety net.

While Trinidad & Tobago didn't offer much of a threat in attack, they did manage to hold strong in midfield and defence, stifling the English of all their purposeful forward movement - what little there was of it in the first half. Yet come the second half, England shifted up a gear and threw even more into attack, including Wayne Rooney who replaced the off-form Michael Owen.

Coming on with Rooney was Aaron Lennon, as replacement for Jamie Carragher - a change that instantly brought hope for the thousands of England fans thanks to his many speedy runs down the right wing. Shots began to rain in from all quarters with Lampard and Crouch going close on numerous occasions, but in the end it was Beckham who crossed the ball into the area for Crouch to head home with just seven minutes left on the clock.

With Trinidad's defence finally breached, England added a second in injury time thanks to a scorching left-foot drive from Steven Gerrard. So England picked up another three points, which will no doubt please them more than the standard of their performance, but can they get Owen and Rooney producing football of a decent standard before it's too late?

Such issues are now redundant for Paraguay who look to be heading home after a second successive defeat, this time to Sweden. Last night's match was, in all fairness, a lacklustre affair with both sides defending competently but not offering much in goalscoring terms. The tedium was ended with two minutes of normal time to go as Freddie Ljungberg headed in to almost certainly set up a second round clash with Germany or Ecuador.

Having scored one and conceded none over two games, Sweden may well fancy their chances of stopping the opposition scoring in the next round, but they'll need to score plenty more if they're to get anywhere near the Final at the end of the month. The same could well be said for England, but you never know - perhaps they'll start practicing in earnest when they meet each other in the final round of Group B matches next Tuesday night.

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