England on course to top Group B

For a maddening four minutes, it looked as if England would continue their goal-scoring form from the warm up match against Jamaica a week ago. A yellow card to Gerrard and a succession of long balls and subsequent ‘fouls’ by Crouch put a dampner on that thought, and the match ended pretty much as is expected from England in big tournaments – they complicated things for themselves and while they got away with it here, similar performances beyond the group stages will not be acceptable.

England View

“Nothing to worry” about were Eriksson’s words, but the verdict from the media is quite likely to be more damning. England failed to capitalise on a perfect start, and their long-ball strategy was a scary flashback to the Euro 2004 and the 2002 World Cup – when the England team isnt clicking they will always punt the ball to their forwards instead of playing themselves into form through posession football.

Sweden will be the real test in this group but by then England should be through from the group stages. They will consider this a job done, and nothing more. Their two worries – no midfield coordination and lack of striker support – should ease up as Gerrard and Lampard play together a few more matches and Rooney gets fit enough to play.

Paraguay View

They shut up shop and shored up their midfield and it worked as England came away with only a 1-0 victory. Their match with Sweden will decide who partners England out of Group B, although they could still squeeze through – the Swedes are unlikely to be this strong in defense.

Ref makes a big fuss about nothing

Fifa’s new guidelines for the referees at the World Cup to promote ‘Fair Play’ were expected to be a talking point this summer and the debate will be picked up again after Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch both received yellow cards for no good reason (even if the ref had one in his mind). Gerrard’s tackle, while a lunge that would be a free kick for a strict ref did not merit a card if only because Gerrard had gone for the ball.

Crouch’s case was even worse – he had repeated free-kicks being given against him as tried to fight for balls in the air. Presumably the fouls were called because he was pushing/holding the opposition defenders in each jump but scarcely meriting anything even close to a foul. When Crouch protested once too many times in the second half he was promptly booked. When England finally won a free kick in the 89th minute the crowd cheered ironically.

Marco Rodriguez (the match referee) did not endear himself to the English fans today and try as Fifa might, they won’t be able to prevent the media talking about poor refereeing this time around.

Gerrard tackles in England vs Paraguay, 2006 World Cup Germany
Gerrard managed to deflect the ball away with his right foot but got a yellow card for ‘lunging’
"Group of Death" brightens the day
England disappoint but hold off Paraguay for a 1-0 win