UPDATE: Oops, and oops. I quite clearly suck.
Again, the convenient overview can be found here. I’ve been able to watch a lot more of the second round of matches than I had the first, and that has allowed me to mentally adjust, ever so slightly, my original expectations, which is a subtle way to say “what the hell was I thinking?” once or twice. The tie-breaking criteria, simplified, are: 1. head-to-head, 2. goal differential overall, 3. goals scored. It gets a bit complicated if three teams are tied on points, which could theoretically happen in three of the four groups (A, B, C). (Note: I’ve seen it also explained as simple goal differential as the first criterion, so I could be wrong).
The final matches in Group A are tonight (BST). The table, first number current position, second my prediction, third goal difference, fourth, obviously, points.
1 (1) Russia (+3) 4
2 (2) Czech (-2) 3
3 (4) Poland (0) 2
4 (3) Greece (-1) 1
Anybody from the group of life could still theoretically advance to the quarter finals. I can’t see Russia don’t less than collecting all three points against the Greeks, while the Czech Republic v Poland match could be a bit of a wild card given Poland’s effective home field advantage. I predict at least a draw, so the table should finish as it stands.
1 (2) Germany (+2) 6
2 (3) Portugal (0) 3
3 (4) Denmark (0) 3
4 (1) Netherlands (-2) 0
Relatively under-rating Germany was my biggest sin for this tournament. They are an exciting, young side. I thought that two summers ago, especially given their demolition of England 4-1 with relative ease. I was seduced more by the Dutch than I was dismissive of the Germans, but after watching the two play the other day, I was ever so slightly wrong. Germany wants to win the group, so I see them easily beating Denmark. The Dutch could still theoretically qualify in second; under head-to-head it’s a simple victory over Portugal. Under goal differential, it’s winning by two clear goals. While the Dutch are an older side, and should be starting van der Vaart ahead of the 35 year-old van Bommel (and knowing they need a victory, I bet they do tomorrow), and are, as usual, sniping, whining, and Arjen Robben is as selfish as ever, I think they pull out a win over Portugal.
1 (1) Spain (+4) 4
2 (3) Croatia (+2) 4
3 (2) Italy (0) 2
4 (4) Ireland (-6) 0
Monday has Croatia v Spain, Italy v Ireland. Spain and Italy win, and my honor is preserved for the second group. When Spain are on, they’re the most interesting, fluid, and entertaining side to watch. They couldn’t be anything but on against a limited Irish side. It was a depressingly lovely match. The draw against Italy was not because of Catenaccio, but a rather defensively minded 3-5-2. Croatia are better than I thought, but their four points flatter. Spain over Croatia, and it goes without saying that even if Italy only score one goal against Ireland, it should be enough. Spain and Italy through.
1 (2) France (2) 4
2 (1) England (1) 4
3 (4) Ukraine (-1) 3
4 (3) Sweden (-2) 0
England v Ukraine will be an interesting match on Tuesday. The English are excited because they only need one point to qualify! Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I’ve lived hear nearly nine years, and in the past, especially WC 2002, Euro 2004, WC 2006, the media and fan base always naturally assumed that they would win any major tournament that they entered. I found it smug and annoying (and inconsistent with the empirical reality that they are, especially from a technical perspective, a second tier side). Then came the failure to qualify at all for Euro 2008, and the debacle of the 2010 WC (not to mention finishing second to the USA in the group). What was rarely mentioned, but when mentioned correctly so, in the fall out from last night’s match against Sweden is that if they merely finish second in the group, their quarter final match is likely against Spain. Tournament over, come home.
Hodgson, regardless of the criticism he’s already receiving after only one competitive match in charge (this is England, after all), is doing a solid job with what he has: one of the least gifted England sides in a generation or two. England will not play like Spain, Germany, or even Holland in a long, long time. He’s tactically nimble, a trait not possessed by his three predessors: shifting from his formation used against France to putting Andy
Johnson Carroll (yes, I knew that, but I had both my daughter and step daughter nagging me whilst writing this) up front against Sweden obviously paid off (even if that sort of Soccer is precisely what England have been doing for decades: big target man, superb Gerrard cross to the head of said big target man, goal). When, as usual, England let the opposition back into the match, Hodgson took off the ineffective Milner for Theo Walcott (my man of the match; until Walcott’s arrival it was Ibrahimović), which changed the attack. (I also question Ashley Young’s contributions, but I’m in the minority here). I’d bet that Hodgson knows that the chance to top the group is vital, so will go for all three points. He’ll start Walcott, and of course a well rested Rooney is back. I predict an England victory over Ukraine, even against the effective home field advantage. England will concede a goal, don’t worry about that, but they score 2. In the other match, I suspect a France victory as well, so it will come down to goal differential to see who wins this group.