4 June 2006


I was born in Scotland and my dad was an anyone-but-England Scot, so although my mum is a Londoner and I sound as English as they come - we moved to East Anglia when I was three - I've never been able to give enthusiastic support to English sports teams. I'm not going to get all Nick Hornby, but one of my first football memories is of us beating England in 1967, and I've stuck to a shamelessly nationalist position ever since. (Some dubiously Scots lefties say they're revolutionary defeatists: I'm just a sweaty at heart.)

This is not a particularly sensible position, particularly among England fans when strong drink has been taken. I shall never forget the abuse I got for cheering on Argentina in 1986, a friend of a friend has never spoken to me since I supported West Germany against England in 1990, and I came close to being beaten up in a pub when when I celebrated Dan Petrescu's 90th minute goal for Romania in 1998.

But, what the hell, I'm not supporting England in the World Cup this time either. My ideal scenario goes something like this:
England 1-1 Paraguay
Trinidad 0-3 Sweden
Sweden 1-0 Paraguay
England 2-0 Trinidad
Paraguay 3-0 Trinidad
England 1-1 Sweden

Final group table:
Sweden p3 w2 d1 l0 pts7 gd4
Paraguay p3 w1 d2 l0 pts5 gd3
England p3 w1 d2 l0 pts5 gd2
Trinidad p3 w0 d0 l0 pts0 gd-8
That's not crazy. All right, I accept that England should do better, but the England team is not as good as we're being told by the press, and they could easily come a cropper simply by not winning games. Without Rooney, the forward line is seriously shonky: I can't see Crouch scoring many against serious defences, and Owen is not what he was. Six-nil against Jamaica looks good until you reflect that England v Jamaica was Manchester United v Oldham Athletic and Oldham had nothing to play for. The England midfield is great if it's given the space but Beckham/Gerard/Lampard/Cole lacks width and pace - neither Beckham nor Cole plays wide enough - and the shape gets lost badly when Lennon or Downing come on as wingers. I could see the midfield (good as it is) being closed down well by technically inferior players who force them into the centre of the park. I was also underwhelmed by the England defence in the Jamaica game: against a more potent strike force than Ricardo Fuller and Deon Burton, Campbell and Carragher would struggle. True, Terry and Neville will be back, but...

For what it's worth, my money's on Brazil to win (boring), for Spain to be best European team and for an African side to get to the semis (not sure which one). But that's enough crystal balls.

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