The Last Word: England's excuses fail to impress

Is it hot weather or just a cold team? Jeremy Last ponders whether England supporters should really be concerned.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
It didn't take long for the excuses to start coming through. It seemed clear that England had simply not been anywhere near good enough in its opening Group B game against Paraguay on Saturday afternoon, having to rely on an own goal for the 1-0 victory. But just minutes after the final whistle, reporters for many of the major television channels began coming out with all manner of reasons that the team had failed to impress against such weak opposition. One presenter noted how viewers shouldn't take too much from the first game as it isn't rare for the team that wins the World Cup to start with a less-thanimpressive performance. Others, as well as some of the England players themselves, complained of the warm temperatures inside the stadium, which apparently reached a crazy 30 C. "It's the first real hot day we've had in training in our buildup, as well," midfielder Joe Cole said. "It took a lot out of the lads." Ignoring the Chelsea star's lack of eloquence, is it really fair to say the heat affected the players that much or that England fans shouldn't be concerned? The fact was that, despite some good passing in the first half, England often played shoddy soccer and rarely looked like scoring, especially in the second period. This was not what was expected. Paraguay provided very little opposition and should have been easily beaten, but yet again in an international tournament, England often looked sloppy. Lanky striker Peter Crouch provided a couple of optimistic moments but in the main looked a class below what is needed. How England can be considered a favorite for the tournament after this match is beyond me. One positive for the English camp was the draw between Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago. Amazingly, if Sweden fails to beat Paraguay on Thursday and England wins against the Trinidadians, England will have already won the group and will be able to not even bother turning up for the last group game against Sweden next Tuesday. And as long as Germany wins its group, it will be Poland, Ecuador or Costa Rica facing England in the second round. But that is all speculation and there's little doubt that what England needs is a striker who can bag a few quick goals. Wayne Rooney's absence was more than evident throughout the match on Saturday. Maybe it's time to play the untested Theo Walcott up front. In stark contrast, Argentina started ominously well against much tougher opposition on Saturday evening and definitely justified its position as many people's pick as a favorite. The clean, free-flowing soccer, exemplified by the second goal scored by Javier Saviola, was just the type of entertainment that was expected in this highlyanticipated tournament. What was also impressive was the way its opponent, Ivory Coast, equipped itself. The Ivorians played quick and skillful soccer, but will need to beat Holland on Friday to have any chance of making it to the second round. Argentina was good, but there is only one country most people expect to be lifting the trophy on July 9. After all the hype and excitement, Brazil will finally play its first game against Croatia on Tuesday night. It remains to be seen if the Samba Boys will live up to the expectations, but, after a number of impressive routs in the warm-up games, even though the opposition was never stronger than Japan or New Zealand, a massive victory against the Croatians is not out of the question. At last we will find out just how amazing Ronaldinho, Robinho, Ronaldo, Kaka et al can really be. The games have well and truly begun.