Another day and another four crucial World Cup matches. Day 13. D-Day for England. And some other teams as well apparently.
Group C came to a conclusion with all four teams still in with a shout of making the knock out stages after a series of pretty poor games, save for the Slovenia v USA game which was a bit of a corker. England had to beat Slovenia to go through. It was that simple. And considering they came into the tournament as one of the favourite’s this should have been a given. But it wasn’t and the country was sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for kick off.
Fabio finally decided to drop Heskey which saw an entire nation breathe such a collective sigh of relief that it must have threatened to send a tsunami over the French coast. Defoe was set to partner Rooney up front in a combination that had never yielded England a single goal. Not ideal. But in Fabio we trust. The last time England failed to win both of their first 2 group games was in Italia 90, and we all know how that campaign ended. So once more into the breeches and all that…
The game turned out to be a real cracker. Not because of particularly brilliant football, but more because of the drama of it. Every time the ball went anywhere near the England box my heart was in my mouth, but David James was an absolute rock between the sticks, safely dealing with a couple of early speculative Slovenian strikes that had Rob Green been in nets, England would have been dead and buried after 10 minutes. Against all the odds England actually started to play some good football. Gerrard and Rooney combining well, Milner making amends for his shocker against Algeria and the defence dealing with anything the Slovenians could throw at it. Things were looking good for England, but I was still as nervous as an altar boy at choir camp.
Nerves were settled slightly on 22 minutes when Defoe fired home a Milner cross in imperious fashion. 1-0 and suddenly England were rampant. Unfortunately for England, Slovenia’s keeper Handanovic was playing out of his skin, and that much needed second goal just wouldn’t come. England had plenty of opportunities but couldn’t seal the deal. Rooney must have missed his usual striking partner as he was doing his best impression of Heskey, but he was unlucky not to break the similarities and score when he hit the post after a neat bit of control from a Lamaprd pass.
As things stood the Slovenians would go through in second place, but with the USA v Algeria game still 0-0 anything could happen. The USA still had high hopes of making the knock out stages, but they needed to beat Algeria, who as England found out were no push-overs. The USA dominated the encounter and were yet again on the end of some pretty awful refereeing when a Clint Dempsey goal was ruled out for offside. The replay showed that it was a pretty poor decision but the USA continued to press. Jozy Altidore, showing exactly why Hull City were not too keen to keep him hanging around at the KC Stadium, missed a number of good chances to put the Americans ahead so 0-0 it stayed into extra time.
England meanwhile, still had not been able to finish off the Slovenians. Gareth Barry gifting possession away to the Slovenians on a number of occasions which almost cost England dearly. But the England defence stood firm. John Terry, as much as it pains me to say it, was brilliant, and such was his devotion to the cause that he actually flung himself head first at one Slovenian shot on goal. You couldn’t script it.
But 1-0 it ended and England were through. And with the USA game in injury time it looked like Slovenia would go though in second place in the group. But, then in the 92 minute, Landon Donovan pounced on a loose ball in the Algerian box and stuck the ball in the old breadbasket to give the USA a 1-0 win and finish top of Group C with England in second place.Fair play to the Americans as they were thoroughly deserving of their win and have been the best team in the group. Who would their opponents in the last 16 be though?
The evening kick off saw Group D come to a head, again with all teams chasing a spot in the next round. Australia took on Serbia, while Germany played Ghana.
The Aussies were still in with a remote chance of qualifying, but would just be happy to finish a game with 11 men! They welcomed back Tim Cahill after suspension and they would need him if they were to make it through to the knock out stages. Germany after a fantastic start to the World Cup faltered against Serbia and now needed to beat Ghana in order to guarantee qualification. With the table so finely balanced it made for a fantastic evenings entertainment (only matched by the record breaking Wimbledon match taking place at the same time – John Isner and Nicolas Mahut playing for over 10 hours at SW19 with things tied at 59-59 in the 5th set at the close of play!)
At half time things were 0-0 in both games so at this stage it was Ghana going through as group winners and Germany as runners up, so England would play Ghana. But the Germany and Ghana game looked like it had goals in it with both teams playing some great football. It was end to end stuff, rivalling a basketball match at one stage as both teams pressed hard for the victory. It was Germany who got the breakthrough in the 60th minute, Mesut Ozil volleying home from outside of the box to put the Germans into pole position in the group.
But the night was far from over, as in the 69th minute Tim Cahill leapt like a salmon to nod home for Australia to give them a 1-0 lead over Serbia. If Ghana could grab an equaliser against Germany it would put Australia right back in the mix for the second round. And things got even better for the Aussies minutes later when Brett Holman grabbed his second goal of the tournament with a superb long range effort that gave the Socceroos a 2-0 lead and it was game on.
Ghana pressed for an equaliser and came close on a number of occasions, but unfortunately it was not to be for the Aussies. Germany held on for a 1-0 win and the Serbs clawed a goal back and their game finished 2-1. It was a much deserved victory for the Aussies who have had a pretty disastrous World Cup, not helped by some pretty poor refereeing decisions, one of the major features of the tournament besides the Vuvuzela’s and the Jabulani’s. Harry Kewell will watch the Germany highlights with his jaw on the deck watching Philipp Lahm performing the same goal line save that earned Kewell a red and the Ghanaians a penalty. But that’s football. Just ask England about controversial hand-balls.
So England will face Germany on Sunday night in a repeat of 1966, 1990 and too many other grudge matches to mention. Better get practicing those penalties with Spotflick as I feel a shoot out a coming. Click here to see how Fabio has been preparing his troops for any penalties shoot out action this summer.
So a pretty good day for England all things considered. Made even better by the fact that England remain on course to lift the Spotflick Cup trophy at the end of the World Cup at the very least. They are still sitting pretty on top of the table with the USA their closest rivals some distance behind.
Get your nation involved in the Spotflick Cup and make see if you can knock England off their perch by the end of the World Cup. Get yourself a copy of Spotflick – The Penalty Shoot Out game for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and get flicking!
Check back tomorrow for the Spotflick Review of Day 14 of the World Cup and get practicing those spot kicks as penalty shoot outs are not far away!