When the England football team walked off the pitch at the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion Sunday evening, 1-0 victors over Ecuador, they knew they had secured their place in the quarter finals of the World Cup. But was their lacklustre performance enough to silence their traditionally vocal critics?
Apparently. The mood amongst England fans in Stuttgart was nothing short of jubilant, the television commentary was awash with superlatives, and even England’s harshest critic, the BBC’s Alan Hansen, was gushing in his praise for team members.
But something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark.
If England possess perhaps six or seven of the world’s top 50 players, Ecuador should be lucky to count one of their number amongst the top 250 and could easily be considered plucky overachievers. By contrast, England — yet to be seriously tested — failed to impress against any of their opponents.
Paraguay, ranked 33rd to England’s 10th in FIFA’s world rankings, made England sweat, both literally and metaphorically, as they emerged 1-0 victors with a late goal. Late goals were again the order of the day as England struggled to find their feet against a Trinidad and Tobago side who surprised all by fighting hard in a 2-0 defeat. After snatching a late draw against England, it can’t go unnoticed that Sweden were easily dispatched by Germany in their second round tie. Ecuador were generally agreed to be among the weakest of the teams to make the knockout stage, and yet England managed just four shots on target during the 90 minutes.
BBC Five Live commentator and former Motherwell manager Terry Butcher has been one of the few pundits to speak out against the England setup. He controversially suggested that England ought to bench David Beckham for the game against Ecuador, opening up the midfield for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and allowing the team to play more free-flowing football.