Morning folks – how are we all doing? Feeling groovy? Or feeling a little disappointed?
I guess if you’re a Welsh reader then probably the latter, but console yourself in the fact that Arsenal are better than any international team anyway. Soon it’ll be Christmas and we can get back to focusing on the most important football – The Arsenal.
I watched the England v Wales game last night and although it was a comfortable win for the English, it was hardly a ‘classic’. Wales tried to hang in there, got it until halftime, but as soon as Southgate tweaked the system, it was too much for the Welsh to handle and England top the group with seven points from a possible nine.
As an Englishman, I’m trying to understand where this places England in terms of their potential and up against some of the other teams in the group. In 2018 they reached the semi final and were knocked out t o Croatia. In 2020 it was the final with a young team. This team now has a blend of older and experienced players – Kane, Maguire, Walker, Henderson, etc – coupled with some of the younger stars coming through. So from that perspective it looks balanced. But having seen them decimate Iran on match day one, then eventually blow away Wales after a stuttering first half, I am still not really sure of the quality of the team. I mean, I KNOW there are good players in that squad, but the performance against the US looked inhibited and it was the only team in that group stage who looked like they had a little something about them. As teams now start to qualify from the group stages, the proper tournament begins, because the teams you’d expect to go deep start facing off against each other.
For England that will be Senegal and again, I don’t really know how England will react to that, because I’d probably place Senegal as good – possibly better – than the US. Maybe that’s harsh on the US team and maybe it’s because of the intensity I’ve seen in the Senegalese in the way they press, but I think England are going to find that game tough. I’d almost wonder if a match up against The Netherlands – something the US has – might have been a game that could have better suited England. But we’ll have to wait and see.
The second half goals did look good though and Rashford looked like he was up for it. He’s the poster boy now after Saka in the Iran game, which will lead Southgate in to a bit of a conundrum for that Senegal game, because I’m not sure whether he would be tempted to keep playing Rashford if he is in that form. He was good last night, but he’s not a technically superior player to Saka and doesn’t offer the same style as Saka does. Rashford wants to run in behind and whilst Saka also does that, he can operate with the ball at his feet. Does Southgate therefore have a tough decision to make?
Perhaps not, because Jordan Henderson wasn’t very good yesterday and he played in a midfield three. I speculated that in the first half a combination of Saka and Foden on the right could be something juicy. You could play either player in the right number eight role, with either player playing right wing and whilst Southgate switched it at halftime and both Foden and Rashford looked very good, I could see a situation in which he could be really quite ambitious and play Saka, Rashford and Foden in the same team. Think of how bold that would be, eh? But we know Southgate is cautious and he’ll most likely go with Henderson again in the next game.
In the other big match we saw the US beat Iran and as the England game petered out I flicked over to see the tail-end of that match. It was intriguing, if not explosive, although as much as I have no real affinity with the US, they deserved to go through by the sounds of it. I watched about 20 minutes in total if you include stoppage time and the Iranians were diving and moaning about everything, so whilst when I first switched it on I thought it would be funny to see the US go out to Iran if there was a goal scored by the Iranians, by the end I couldn’t route for a team who were messing around and not trying more to get the goal they needed by normal and fair means. So the US go through against the Netherlands and I’d be surprised if they made it beyond the Round of 16, but the Netherlands have looked so ‘meh’ that I guess there is the chance they could do it.
Today’s knockout games will add some intrigue in some matches. I suspect it’ll be France and Denmark that will go through at the expense of Australia and Tunisia, which will be no real surprise, but Poland Argentina will be one to watch I reckon. The Poles just need a draw, the Argies probably can get through with a draw, but if Mexico deliver a smashing of the Saudi’s then it could be in the balance. The goal difference swing between Mexico and Argentina is three, so they’ll need to win by three clear goals and if that happens and they win 3-0, for example, with Argentina and Poland playing out a draw, then depending on whether it is a score draw might see Mexico or Argentina through. I think Argentina will win it though and if they get a couple of goals against the Polish then Mexico go in to the same situation with the Polish if they win by two clear goals against the Saudi’s. That makes for an interesting dilemma because whilst Poland versus Argentina is clearly the bigger game in terms of technical quality of the two teams, the Mexico vs Saudia Arabia game might be more interesting, just because the Mexicans might have to go hell for leather against the Saudi’s, so there could be goals in that match.
Either way, we’ll have another batch of teams through and the round of 16 will really look like it’s shaping up come 9pm UK time tonight. I’m looking forward to it.
Right, I’m offski for now – you have a good one and I’ll catch thee tomorrow.