We need to hit ground run­ning... not run­ning scared of the big guns

Sunday Mirror - - PUZZLES -

tour­na­ments with so much ex­pec­ta­tion, so much build-up from the sup­port, and they are ex­pected to smash ev­ery­one.

Then they face teams like Tu­nisia and don’t blow them away... and the in­quest starts be­fore the whole thing is barely un­der way. I have to be care­ful how I say this for fear of look­ing stupid, but that first game is the tough­est “easy” one they could have.

No Eng­land side ever seems to hit the ground run­ning in the first group game. And, against op­po­nents like Tu­nisia, who you know will be right up for the game, it is so easy to drop points.

The only World Cup fi­nals I went to, it hap­pened to us.

We played Swe­den and ev­ery­one back home was al­ready look­ing ahead to which of the big na­tions we’d face in the knock­out stage (it was Brazil, and that was that).

We only drew and it was as if the sky had col­lapsed... even though Swe­den were, ob­vi­ously, a very good team, who ac­tu­ally went on to top the group. Bel­gium are hardly rub­bish either, are they? I reckon their man­age­ment will be hav­ing a field day, telling all the play­ers that Eng­land think they have any easy group and a pass into the knock­out. I can imag­ine the re­ac­tion there. If we think it was an easy group, what about them? They’ll be do­ing cart­wheels that they didn’t get Spain or Uruguay from pot two, which says much about our stand­ing at present. No one knows much about Panama, just as no one knew any­thing about Costa Rica at the last World Cup – and they knocked out Eng­land and Italy! That’s the big­gest rea­son I wanted South­gate’s team to get a tougher­look­ing draw (and again, I’m not say­ing it is easy), to stop all that tri­umphal­ism and ex­pec­ta­tion that we al­ways seem to go to tour­na­ments with. If we’d had, say Brazil, Swe­den and Ser­bia, no one would be think­ing we’d got a chance, but I be­lieve, on any given day, Eng­land are ca­pa­ble of beat­ing any team.

That doesn’t mean I think we can win the tour­na­ment, but we could beat Brazil on a good day.

It’s a big re­gret I only went to the fi­nals once. I wrecked my knee in 1998 and ac­tu­ally had a hip prob­lem when I went in 2002 and prob­a­bly shouldn’t have.

I think I should per­haps have gone in 2006, when I was back at Liver­pool, be­cause we didn’t have many op­tions up front with Michael Owen in­jured (they took a 16-year-old Theo Wal­cott, re­mem­ber) and I had hit a de­cent run of scor­ing form.

Look­ing back, I’d have loved my World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence to have gone be­yond a sec­ond-half ap­pear­ance against Den­mark when al­ready 3-0 up (and don’t get me started on why Sven-Go­ran Eriks­son didn’t bring me on when we were los­ing to Brazil).

That’s the point. You go to the fi­nals to play against the big­gest na­tions in the world, so when you get there – or rather, when you get home – you want to have faced them up.

Eng­land have a young team and I guar­an­tee they will all be pray­ing they play as many of the big guns as pos­si­ble be­fore they come home.

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