England play against Nigeria and Costa Rica in two World Cup warm-up friendly games before the tournament kicks off for us against Tunisia [rank 14] in two weeks time Monday.
The Nigeria game was played at Wembley this evening, when England scored an early goal and Harry Kane [(captain), 40 goals scored this season but recovering from injury so not fully sharp yet] demonstrated that he is indeed world class to score late in the first half, which the team dominated and were of a different class.
Now, Nigeria aren’t one of the top sides but nevertheless they are ranked in the top 50 (just) and are also at this World Cup [and were at the last], so it represented a good workout, and England gave a half decent performance, looked sharp, with really good movement off the ball, in an encouraging first half (scoring 2), but definitely NOT the second.
Nigeria changed their formation, plugged the gaps at the back that England had exploited, and got back in the game with a good goal after the restart and thereafter kept the pressure on – it proved a disaster for England that changed the whole mood of the game with Nigeria edging the second half.
The conceded goal had a worryingly bad influence on the team; they were edgy and went into its shell after being caught out. Losing confidence, losing concentration, and having no idea on how to open-up the opposition in the second half, certainly needs attention. England were flat and needed to create more opportunities if it was to find a big finish.
Raheem Stirling had no impact on the game, and he needed to, following his shame of getting a gun tattoo on his leg and being a ‘no show’ on the agreed day at the training camp – he had a forgettable second half and flagged (lack of training?), as well as getting booked for diving in the penalty area [don’t believe those that say he impressed – he didn’t, he missed chances].
Well, the England Manager Gareth Southgate was oblivious to the obvious (that there were questions still to be asked) and insisted it was a good win. That ‘in-denial’ approach however is likely to give many blinkered football fans a warm-glow feeling about the team’s prospect in the upcoming competition, don’t you think?
England are likely to head to their training camp outside St Petersburg later than other nations for the finals and unfortunately may well be back home before many others, let alone get to the Final.
England’s current ranking of 13th in the world, apart from being ‘not good enough’ for a supposedly such a prestigious footballing nation, means that the team has to consistently over-perform in Russia to progress far. We will need to be able to beat the likes of Poland [ranked 10], Germany [ranked 1], Argentina [ranked 5], to get to a final say against Portugal [ranked 4]. [Eighty percent of us don’t expect England to win the FIFA World Cup trophy].
The crunch game will be the first one against Tunisia as it will be a must win match against an equivalently ranked team – win that and England ‘should’ go on to get into the Round of Sixteen.
[Next Thursday June 7 the England team will host ‘Costa Rica’ [rank 25], a Quarter finalist last time and also will be Russia bound afterwards] at Leeds United’s Elland Road ground].
World Cup Finals’ Rules for progression
Group Stage: 4 teams in each of 8 league groups [A B C D E F G]
Top 2 teams in each Group qualify to progress
Round of Sixteen Winner A v. Runner-up B = 1
Winner B v. Runner-up A = 2
Winner C v. Runner-up D = 3
Winner D v. Runner-up C = 4
Winner E v. Runner-up F = 5
Winner F v. Runner-up E = 6
Winner G v. Runner-up H = 7
Winner H v. Runner-up G = 8
All winning 8 teams to progress
Quarter Finals Winner 1 v. Winner 3 = A
Winner 2 v. Winner 4 = B
Winner 5 v. Winner 7 = C
Winner 6 v. Winner 8 = D
The winning 4 teams to progress
Semi Finals Winner A v. Winner C
Winner B v. Winner D
The winning 2 teams to progress
Final 15th July