The Empire Strikes Back

  • England and Kane progress
  • Group G is no test for Southgate
  • Germany and Colombia recover in contrasting ways

And so the English bandwagon accelerates. A facile 6-1 win over the second of two pub teams in Group G has taken Gareth Southgate’s squad into the last 16 with a game to spare, as predicted on these pages.

Make no mistake: England have beaten two of the three worst teams in the competition – sides far weaker than the Algerian side they faced in 2010 in the notorious EASY group that also contained Slovenia and the USA.

Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 were also much better organised than the rabble of Group G. Comparing Tunisia and Panama to Nigeria in 2002 or Ecuador four years later is execrable.

In that sense, the argument that England have struggled against sides like Tunisia and Panama before is self-serving nonsense. England have never played against teams as woefully inadequate as these.

Despite this, England have every right to be satisfied at their progress to date. They are building confidence for the tests to come and could well make the last eight.

Harry Kane is contending for the Golden Boot and only Colombia from Group H look properly equipped to trouble them in the second round.

Germany, somehow still alive, are unlikely to defend their title – or even make the quarter-finals – on current form.

However, it was reassuring to see the Darth Vader of World Cup football returning to traditional type by rising from the dead when all hope was lost. This is what West Germany used to do with terrifying regularity.

This simply adds to their aura of invincibility which impedes opponents. Nobody will want to play them now – but they are massively vulnerable.

Joachim Löw needs to relegate the ineffective Thomas Müller to the bench. He’s done nothing for the national team for two tournaments in a row now.

Julian Brandt deserves a start alonside Marco Reus, and perhaps the rested Mesut Özil would return reinvigorated now he knows he is no longer undroppable.

Timo Werner played better on the wing than up front, so there’s an argument to move him left. Mario Gomez has more presence and offers a focal point, if not elegance, up top.

Löw has decisions to make further back, too. Who will partner Toni Kroos in midfield now that Sebastian Rudy has a broken nose and requires surgery? Mats Hummels will surely return with Jerome Boateng suspended and struggling. Antonio Rüdiger was similarly poor at the back. Niklas Sule is surely an option.

All of which shows how unstable the defending champions are right now.

Like Germany, Colombia lost their opening game, but their recovery was more spectacular than dramatic. Poland, functional and little else, were blown away by a brilliant performance from James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, and Juan Quintero.

Robert Lewandowski had no impact – again – but wasn’t remotely supplied by his outplayed team mates. All that’s left now is the chance to restore a modicum of pride by beating Japan and perhaps easing the Senegalese and Colombians into the next round as a result.

Soccer Scribe.

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