"It's just waiting for a spark"
The TV pundits loved that one during the early group games.
Sure we've had some dull games but we've had 'upsets' and some massive performances, not least from the lesser nations such as Switzerland and North Korea. Indeed, North Korea's enthusiastic yet organised approach made Brazil look pedestrian rather than casual.
The 'big-name' nations are being pushed and there are some tricky ties to overcome for most before the knockout stages. Given that most of the sides in the last 16 will have been tested, perhaps more than expected, it bodes well for the latter stages.
For now though we focus on the groups and many teams are looking at must win games already. Most thought France fell into that category but they had other ideas, surrendering meekly to a bright Mexico side. They now face an unpredictable South African side desperate to reward the masses and sneak through. For me, France are on their way home and deservedly so for such a disjointed and defensive mind-set. Argentina probably impressed the most but much sterner tests lie ahead. Italy lack ideas and look likely to concede, which is not ideal given their considered approach and has no doubt prompted many reshuffles by fantasy football enthusiasts. Germany blew away a well-below par Australia side but then succumbed to a determined Serbia. Spain dominated Switzerland but lacked width and penetration. Brazil did enough to edge past North Korea without ever looking impressive and it will not get any easier for them. Holland played some decent stuff in parts but lack mobility in key areas and will need Robben firing to get past the quarters. Ivory Coast and Ghana look the most likely of the African sides, yet will need to be more positive and consistent to make it through.
On the England front, reality has checked public expectation early doors but I fancy us to improve and progress smoothly. USA are decent and caused us some problems. On the positive side we created enough chances and played well in parts. It was the timing of their goal rather than the nature of it that did for us. However, we'll undoubtedly face similar tests so it could well help, even if we didn't secure the 'easy' win the nation craved.
Fabio's selection policy has come under scrutiny as the media look for stories but he will take little notice. My one concern was us arriving in South Africa without a recognised number 1 but I've covered that previously so I'll move on. For what it's worth, I agree with FC leaving it late if he's planning to pick a team to suit each game but 8/9 seem certain of a place anyway. Most importantly, the players seem comfortable with how he works - at least until they have some books to sell in the future. Personally, I feel we might need to go 4-5-1 to make the last four so you could argue that's how we should go now but then Defoe or Crouch could play big roles in securing the points we need. Anyway, we'll have a look at that next week… We hope!
Back the beard - if you can.
Come on England!