England, South Korea and Rodriguez x2

by Dave Hearn

After weeks of build up, discussion and intense speculation regarding which of the bright young hopes would win the battle and be selected to showcase their talents on the biggest stage of, early on Saturday evening we finally had our answer; Alan Irvine had been appointed Head Coach of West Bromwich Albion on a twelve month rolling-contract. In other news, Costa Rica dismantled a creaking Uruguayan defence with consummate ease in Fortaleza and England suffered a 2-1 defeat to ten catalogue models and Gabriel Paletta on the edges of the Brazilian jungle.

Given that the tournament itself has started so well, with some scintillating counter-attacking football on show throughout, the holders being absolutely walloped by a rampant Dutch side and an incredibly flamboyant 3-0 win for Colombia against the Greeks, the concern ahead of England’s first foray into the competition was that we’d play our unique brand of Dave Bassett-ball and leave the place smelling like the bus station toilets. Encouragingly, though, those concerns never materialised and the England side went on to put in what is probably their best display of attacking football in a major tournament since the 3-0 win over Denmark in 2002.

Despite losing a tight game 2-1, the list of positives to emerge from the match itself is fairly lengthy; the attacking players, generally speaking, carried the sort of confidence and youthful exuberance they display so regularly at club level onto the international stage seemingly without fear. There was a nice variety about the team, with plenty of pace and positivity on show and a handful of good chances created against a well-seasoned tournament team such as Italy, and you’d think a performance of similar quality against Uruguay later in the week will be enough to bring about a victory. And whilst there are several problems to address; the left-back being exposed so often, Steven Gerrard’s penchant for wasteful Hollywood balls showing no signs of abating, the Wayne Rooney Conundrum – anyone who saw the Uruguayan team collapse against Costa Rica could be forgiven for thinking that Oscar Tabarez has more to keep him awake at night going into that game than Roy Hodgson does.

Tonight sees Group H get started and with that comes the chance to see Fabio Capello’s Russia in action against a South Korean team engaged in a period of transition under coach Hong Myung-bo, who skippered the side to a fourth-placed finish on home soil in the 2002 tournament. We’ll also get to see ten good Belgian players plus Marouane Fellaini taking on Algeria in Belo Horizonte and, after those two games have been completed, we’ll have seen each and every team in action at least once so any predictions made from now onwards should be a little bit more informed perhaps.

Steering clear of the usual suspects such as Brazil, Germany and Argentina and whatnot is difficult but the way Colombia sauntered past a notoriously stingy Greek side, with James Rodriguez pulling the strings just behind the striker, suggested that they could go very deep into the tournament despite not having Radamel Falcao available for selection. Miralem Pjanic, of Bosnia Herzegovina, played with real class and composure in the middle of the middle of the field against Argentina on Sunday night and Ricardo Rodriguez, relentlessly tearing up and down the left-hand side for Switzerland against Ecuador on the same day, stand out as two players worth keeping an eye on as the competition progresses.

But it never feels like a proper World Cup until South Korea have taken some part in proceedings so tonight will see the tournament start for real; with Ki Sung-yeung orchestrating the midfield and Park Chu-young spearheading the attack I can sense a narrow win for Korea on the horizon, especially if Capello does for the Russian team what he did for the English one in South Africa four years ago, so if you have a spare pound coin nearby then 1-0 to Korea might be worth looking into.