Brian Glanville: England Are No More Than 50/50 To Beat Sweden
And, now Sweden. Can England prevail again? I would give them a 50/50 chance. Solid, well organised, resilient, Sweden are a team to be respected rather than admired. Like England, with the possible exception of Harry Kane, they are a side without stars. No Nils Liedholm, Gunnar Gren, Kurt Hamrin or Nacka Skoglund of that famous 1958 World Cup side.
England had to go all the way to penalties, which blessedly they at least managed to prevail on, to beat a Colombian side without its one refulgent star, James Rodriguez, who, injured, had to watch disconsolately from the stand. For all their first-half dominance, England mustered barely a single shot to test the Arsenal reserve keeper, David Ospina. They notable lacked any semblance of a playmaker, bizarrely keeping the one candidate, Loftus-Cheek, on the subs bench throughout. It is to be hoped that they call him up against Sweden but who knows?
Of the back three, Harry Maguire has proved a revelation, Walker all too vulnerable. No wingers of course, nobody to get to the byline and pull the ball back. No Aaron Lennon, who did it so well in that German World Cup. But then Gareth Southgate could respond, neither has anyone else.
For Brazil, the maddening but highly gifted Neymar can move out to the left wing when he chooses, often with insidious effect. But as alas we know even the Brazilians, who in the glittering past gave us Garrincha and Jairzinho, don’t go for wingers any more.
But at least England have survived, and look who haven’t: Spain, who for all their possession couldnt oust Russia, Germany, the actual holders, humiliated in what proved to be their last game, by South Korea, their goalkeeper wandering inexplicably onto the left wing when desperation set in, the last cruel twist of the knife coming when the Koreans walked the length of the field and shot into an empty net.
Meanwhile, England have at least and at last found themselves an accomplished goalkeeper. Jordan Pickford surpassed himself when, so late in the game, he frustrated Uribe with a fine save, then, though beaten from the corner, excelled in the penalty shoot-out. This in a tournament when Spain’s David De Gea, the leading keeper in the Premiership, gave away such an embarrassing goal in his team’s opening game.
Yet again, after all these years, the Hillsborough disaster rears its ugly head. David Duckenfield, ineptly in charge that fateful day, is to be charge with manslaughter by gross negligence and several other senior policemen will be charged with perverting the course of justice.
I still see Duckenfield, despite the undeniable blunder of opening the gate to the crowds, as the fall guy in this horrid affair. He should have never been appointed in the first place, a man with no crowd experience. The officer who had presided the previous year having been removed because of alleged “horseplay” among his officers.
Those who appointed Duckenfield bear heavy responsibility.
In Janaury, two officers and a retired solicitor face trial for perverting the course of justice while Sir Norman Bettison, ex West Yorkshire chief constable, will learn in August whether he will be charged with misconduct. We know that on duty policemen were forced to alter their statements.
The FA themselves are surely lucky to escape the consequences of giving those semi-finals to a stadium which, I know from testimony of fans, was perceptibly unsafe.
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