England laboured to a 1-0 win over Paraguay in their first Group B game, the victory secured in the third minute when Paraguay captain Carlos Gamarra nodded a trademark David Beckham freekick into his own net. From that point on the England players wilted, blaming the heat for yet another weak and ineffectual second-half display. Sven-Goran Eriksson declared himself satisfied but again proved he is incapable of making effective substitutions; his negativity and tactical ineptitude were major factors in England’s lacklustre showing. Fortunately for Eriksson a very poor Paraguay side rarely threatened Paul Robinson’s goal. The one shining light was Joe Cole; Chelsea’s most improved player of recent seasons put in a decent performance and definitely has the potential to be one of the World Cup’s stars.
Elsewhere in Group B Sweden failed to beat Trinidad and Tobago, who played all-but thirty seconds of the second-half with ten men after the dismissal of Avery John for two bookable offences. West Ham goalkeeper Shaka Hislop put in an inspired performance for the Caribbean side, while former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke was immense in a role foreign to him, that of holding midfielder. Sweden played reasonably well but can have no excuses. The result left England needing to beat Trinidad and Tobago next Thursday to qualify for the first knock-out round with a game in hand, and with a good chance of avoiding Germany.
Hernan Crespo won the battle of the Chelsea strikers in Group C, the so-called Group of Death. His Argentina side beat Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast 2-1 with both players netting a goal. Argentina took a two goal lead through Crespo and Javier Saviola but not before the Elephants threatened on a number of occasions, only for poor finishing to let them down. Drogba volleyed in with eight minutes remaining but Argentina held on for the three points. Drogba’s side will probably need to beat both Holland and Serbia and Montenegro to have any chance of qualifying for the next round.
Today sees more Chelsea players in action as Arjen Robben and Holland take on Serbia and Montenegro in Leipzig. Former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman will start for Serbia. Later in Cologne, Portugal will play their opening game against Angola with Ricardo Carvalho expected to take his place in the centre of defence for the Euro 2004 runners-up. Barcelona midfielder Deco is a doubt with a foot injury. Iran will play Mexico in the other game in Group D.