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World Cup: Then There Were Eight

We're coming to the end of another week of glorious (and abject) football in South Africa, as the tournament starts to lose its pretenders and make-weights. Of the four games in the next round Germany-Argentina stands out as the tie of the round (with respect to Brazil, Ghana, Spain, Paraguay, Holland and Uruguay). The German team is young and full of promise, whilst the Argentinian side is full of skill and very attack minded. Given the frailties that have been obvious in both sides defences thus far in the tournament it feels like a game with plenty of goals in it.

Of the teams that have been eliminated Italy, Portugal, England and France have the most serious problems to contend with. Each should have been expected to reach the last eight as a minimum performance, all have failed to deliver.

For France I suspect there will be major repercussions for the performance of its team on and off the pitch, the only saving grace being the arrival of Laurent Blanc as manager. Italy's performance as reigning champions was just as disappointing and only really showed any spark in the last twenty minutes of their defeat by Slovakia. After their humbling at the Confederations Cup last summer you'd have expected a more adventurous effort from manager Lippi, however he stuck with his team of 2006 by and large; leaving behind flair players and played without ambition. No-one in Italy expected much this time around, though I suspect there will still be dismay at just how little was achieved.

Portugal racked up mighty 7-0 win against North Korea and went out of the tournament having conceded just one goal. However once they fell behind to Spain it became clear that Querioz had no Plan B and having the stingiest defence in World Football just wasn't enough to progress.

From the stingiest defence to the most generous - England played without spirit, ambition and, mostly, without much skill too. Having laboured their way through the group stage the hopes were for this 'Golden' generation to rise to the greater challenge of world class opposition. Sadly those hopes were dashed at the first opportunity, with Germany exposing England as slow, slow and slow in defence; and bereft of ideas in attack. Some bizarre selections from Capello didn't help and some of his decisions defied belief. Apart from ten minute spell either side of half-time this was the worst England performance that I can remember.

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