Liam Hoden’s World Cup Watch: England expects....failure

Can Wayne Rooney find form for England?

Can Wayne Rooney find form for England?

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The anticipation has been building for weeks for today – despite the fact most seem to be completely writing England off.

Maybe it’s the Saturday night out-friendly kick off time or some sick defeatism but there is plenty of excitement about the clash with Italy.

I will go out on a limb to say England will not be anywhere near as poor as they are being portrayed. But that easily come back and bite me.

I want to hear your thoughts on what you’ve seen so far and what you are expecting from the games ahead, particularly anything England related.

Comment below or visit our Facebook page The Star Sport to let us know your views.

LAST NIGHT

That sound you can hear is Manchester United fans hyperventilating with excitement.

New boss Louis van Gaal masterminded a stunning demolition of Spain, a brilliant second half performance that left the defending world champions shellshocked.

If he can do that against Spain, what is he going to do against Burnley?

It also proved that you should never write off the Dutch. Suddenly, a footballing power not expected to emerge from their group will find them talked about as potential winners.

If they play like that again, anyone in the competition would struggle against them.

Holland were relentless in their pressing. Spain, who in the past have found space from nothing, simply had no room to work.

Doubles for Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben and a Stefan de Vrij strike saw the Dutch ruthlessly overturn a 1-0 deficit after Xabi Alonso put Spain ahead from the spot.

Unfortunately what the result, and particularly the scoreline, does is reignite the painful debate over whether tiki taka is dead. Do we really need to go through this again?

What is not up for debate is the standard of officiating so far in the competition, as the day’s first game included two particularly poor decisions.

Just when we thought we’d be only discussing the magic spray when it came to officials, scandalous errors have washed all that away.

Mexico had two Giovani Dos Santos goals wrongly ruled out for offside. The first one was tight, the second one baffling.

The Mexicans did not seem too fazed by the setbacks and ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a second half goal from Oribe Peralta. Their performance makes the rest of the Group A campaign look particularly tantilising, finding out who will follow likely winners Brazil.

The Chileans showed their vulnerabilities in their 3-1 win over Australia.

Two early goals from Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia suggested Chile would destroy the Aussies but there was no accounting for some unexpected resolve from Down Under.

The Aussies are at the beginning of a cycle and there were enough signs to suggest they can rediscover the magic of the last decade.

There was little surprise in the manner in which Chile allowed themselves to be pegged back. They lived up to their reputation of struggling to close games out despite dominating.

Jean Beausejour’s late goal ensured a scoreline which looked more comfortable for the dark horses than it actually was. Improvement will be needed when they face the two stronger teams in the group.

Highlights

- Robin van Persie’s header. Brilliantly absurd.

- Nigel de Jong proving he’s still got it with the most ridiculous foul, two yards away from the ball

- Tim Cahill turning back the clock with the most Tim Cahill headed goal you’re ever likely to see

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Group C: Columbia v Greece, Belo Horizonte, 5pm kick off, BBC

Not quite an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, but certainly a side intent on attack meeting another where defence is the main goal. Can Columbia’s talented attackers break down the reinforced concrete wall that is Greece?

They may be missed Radamel Falcao, but there is no need to take Columbia out of that dark horse pile just yet.

The rejuvenated South American side are an excellent attacking force even without the Monaco forward and have plenty of goalscoring talent to fill his boots.

Much of their attacking threat comes down the wings with James Rodriguez and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, supported by attacking full backs. They played 4-4-2 or a variant thereof throughout qualifying and seem likely to the same even with the absence of their star man.

They are defensively questionable, something which cannot be said of their opening opponents.

Remember that Greece team that won Euro 2004? This Greece team are from the same mould.

Two stats tell the full story of Fernando Santos’ men. Eight clean sheets from ten qualifying games; 12 goals scored in ten qualifying games.

They are incredibly organised and could easily use this to emerge from Group C. Even if they are likely to be incredibly dull doing so.

Verdict

Columbia are the big favourites for this match but that is failing to take into account how good Greece are at shutting out the opposition. It will take all Columbia’s individual attacking brilliance to break them down.

Betting

Columbia 5/6 Draw 9/4 Greece 9/2

Closer to home

Columbia: Pablo Armero (West Ham)

Greece: Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham)

Group D: Uruguay v Costa Rica, Fortaleza, 8pm kick off, ITV

Anyone expecting the same Uruguay as the one which lit up South Africa four years ago will be a little disappointed.

Uruguay had a horrendous qualifying campaign and were forced into a play-off with Jordan.

The South Americans have developed into a functional outfit to compensate for their rather sluggish defence, with the midfield more hard-working than creative.

But they do possess possibly the best strike duo in the competition in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

Suarez has shown in the Premier League this season he can win games by himself and Cavani is from the same mould.

It will be particularly interesting to see how Uruguay come off the back foot against a side who are particularly defensive.

Costa Rica most often play with five at the back and only one forward, generally Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell.

Campbell will look to hurt the slow Uruguay back line with his pace but during this competition he is likely to working pretty much alone in attack.

They might be expected to get nothing from their World Cup adventure but Costa Rica will likely cause a few problems along the way.

Verdict

There are plenty of questions about Uruguay and if they can possible recreate the magic of the last World Cup. But they should have enough to get off to a decent start against one of the competition’s weakest sides.

Betting

Uruguay 2/5 Draw 10/3 Costa Rica 17/2

Closer to home

Uruguay: Diego Lugano (West Brom), Luis Suarez, Sebastian Coates (both Liverpool), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton)

Costa Rica: Joel Campbell (Arsenal)

Group D: England v Italy, Manaus, 11pm kick off, BBC

England have rarely gone into an international tournament with expectations as low. In fact, the expectation is failure.

There is a transitional feel about the squad with veterans still able to deliver and very young very talented newcomers whose lack of experience may see them denied much in the way of game time. The excitement is likely to be back for the next Euros or even the 2018 World Cup.

But they shouldn’t be written off just yet. If Roy Hodgson can get the balance between youthful exuberance and composed experience, England could make an impact in Brazil.

Questions will be asked of the defence, which seems to be a consistent theme. There is also the Rooney issue – is it possible to leave out the most individually talented player in the squad and if you don’t, where does he play.

How well Hodgson can keep all the plates spinning will have a major influence on how well England do.

If you listened to certain sections of the media you would think Italy were Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli and nine others.

Driven largely by the incredible success of Juventus in recent years, this is an incredibly talented Italian side.

Italy could very easily go far in the competition, if they can find a system that works for them.

Cesare Prandelli has experimented with several formations but failed to stick with one.

Pirlo is undoubtedly a very special player, one who England will and should be wary of. But they cannot be drawn too much into shutting out the veteran, if it is even possible to do so. He is not the only player in the side capable of picking out a phenomenal pass.

Living up to the stereotype perfectly, Italy’s defence is brilliant and will prove incredibly difficult to break down.

Using some of the youthful pace in the England squad seems to provide the best chance of finding the gaps.

Verdict

Cagey, cagey, cagey. I would be very surprised if either team approached the game with anything other than a determination not to lose, particularly for the first 70 minutes or so. But there are some special talents on both sides who could open things up and get the game going.

Betting

England 7/4 Draw 2/1 Italy 2/1

Closer to home

Italy: None

Group C: Ivory Coast v Japan, Recife, 2am kick off, ITV

One things you are almost guaranteed to get from Japan is entertainment.

If you like technically brilliant footballers, superb build-up play and exciting attacks, Japan are your team.

You are also likely to get goals whenever Alberto Zaccheroni’s side are playing. Unfortunately, they’re probably going to be at the other end.

Japan are as poor in both boxes as they are brilliant across the rest of the pitch.

They will entertain but they will struggle to progress too far in the competition.

The Ivory Coast are limping to the end of a golden generation, another one of those groups which can be placed in the ‘failed to fulfil potential’ pile.

It seems unlikely they will do much to change that in this tournament but they do have a good chance of emerging from their group, provided their individual talents can produce.

The big focus of the side, unsurprisingly, is Yaya Toure while Didier Drogba is still the heartbeat, despite his age.

Gervinho may have failed to pull up any trees at Arsenal but he has excelled at Roma. Alongside Toure, he will provide the excitement for the Africans.

There are big questions about the Ivorians’ defence and plenty of pressure will fall upon the attacking-minded players to make up for that.

Verdict

This late night game looks set to deliver plenty in the entertainment stakes with two sides who will look to outdo each other with midfield brilliance. It seems likely to be tight as well.

Betting

Ivory Coast 7/4 Draw 11/5 Japan 2/1

Closer to home

Ivory Coast: Kolo Toure (Liverpool), Cheik Tiote (Newcastle), Wilfired Bony (Swansea), Yaya Toure (Manchester City)

Japan: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Maya Yoshida (Southampton)

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