In the cold light of day, England have a chance
NOW the dust has settled on the latest round of World Cup qualifiers, a true assessment can be made of next summer’s tournament.
The media has been repeatedly asking since England’s 5-1 demolition of Croatia on Wednesday: “Can England win the World Cup?”
The answer uniformly has been yes, but can win it and will win it are two very different questions.
England sit third with bookmakers behind Brazil and Spain and on form this is correctly where they sit in the global pecking order.
One big advantage in England’s favour is the relative weakness of other ‘big’ nations.
Argentina and Portugal are both precariously poised and will require a play-off if they are to progress at all, leaving the prospect of the world’s two best footballers – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – being absent from the sport’s showpiece event.
Even if they win their remaining fixtures – against Hungary and Malta – should Sweden win away in Denmark, Portugal will be miss out on even a play-off place.
Argentina will go to Uruguay on October 13, with the match likely to be a winner-takes-all shoot out for a play-off against CONCACAF’s fourth team, currently Costa Rica.
France, four points adrift of Serbia, will also need a play-off to book their plane to South Africa.
Germany must get at least a draw from their game on Moscow’s plastic pitch against Russia on October 10 to qualify automatically.
This will be no easy task against the Russians, who along with England possess the best manager in international football in Guus Hiddink.
The flip side of this is that the World Cup will feature some more unknown names.
Away fans nightmare North Korea will be in South Africa, after defeating Cuba to top the Rogue State Qualifying Group.
New Zealand could make their second World Cup appearance, after topping the Oceania group.
I know what you are thinking: “bloody hell, they did well to beat Australia, what with Cahill and Schwarzer and Viduka and all,” but Australia transferred to the Asian group, after getting annoyed with always having to qualify via a play-off.
By that logic and FIFA’s twisted geography (Israel – not in Europe), if Scotland requested a move to the CONCACAF* to make it easier for them to qualify, it would probably be allowed.
New Zealand, with a team presumably made up of failed rugby players and cricketers, face a play-off against perennial World Cup group stage spank-fodder Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
The absence of several heavyweights also makes a first African victory more likely in the first World Cup staged on their turf, although ironically they are hampered by temperatures more likely to favour their European rivals.
Egypt, winner of the past two African Cup of Nations, are another staring down the barrel of qualification failure, but Ghana and Ivory Coast both have squads to be reckoned with.
Either way expect to drown in a sea of St. George’s flags and pissed up part-time fans come next summer.
* first known example of CONCACAF being mentioned twice in the same article