England go into Thursday’s game against Uruguay knowing defeat will all but end their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s men produced a fine performance in their tournament opener against Italy, but there are plenty of calls for Wayne Rooney to switch with Raheem Sterling and take the Liverpool man's central role, despite the Anfield ace impressing in Saturday’s defeat.
Away from the England camp, Spain are facing serious scrutiny after their 5-1 hammering at the hands of the Netherlands, sparking suggestions their dominance of international football is coming to an end.
Vicente Del Bosque’s men face Chile on Wednesday night, and could end up being eliminated after just two fixtures.
The hosts, meanwhile, look set to make it through their group but stuttered and struggled during their encounter with Mexico. Brazil haven’t set the tournament alight with the sparkling football we saw at the Confederations Cup 12 months ago, and critics are suggesting the pressure is proving too much for Luis Felipe Scolari’s men.
In his latest World Cup column, Guillem Balague offers his insight on keeping Rooney, Sterling and co. happy, a superb display by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and whether Spain really are finished…
RAHEEM STERLING ON POSITION
HE SAID:"I don't think the team was built around me necessarily. I just think the manager thought that was the right position for me at the time, with my pressing and my closing down."
GUILLEM’S ASSESSMENT: If, like Roy Hodgson, you have a bunch of players that seem happier or perform better in the same position (Lallana, Rooney, Sterling), you have to choose which one to play there thinking about their job with and without the ball. But also about the hierarchy of the group. An example: when Messi arrived to the first team of Barcelona, Ronaldinho was the star who started on the left but had free movement to come inside as often as he wanted. Messi had to do his damage as a right winger. And he focused on that until the natural development of the team meant Ronnie had to go and the space was freed for him. But Messi was a problem as a right winger as he didn’t track back. Sterling can track back, can do damage from a wing - it is not his time to run this team. Rooney doesn’t track back with such a great defensive intention, but he can perform as number 10. So the choice should be clear.
SPAIN MIDFIELDER XABI ALONSO
HE SAID: "I think that what you've heard in the press seems a little exaggerated to me. You cannot consider that this generation is finished. On the contrary, we are still alive."
GUILLEM’S ASSESSMENT: I am sure he believes that. I am also sure that, even if Spain goes further than most people think, he will think differently in six months when he sees what has happened to the side. The first thing that disappears when a team has got the belly full (like Barcelona, Bayern, France or Italy the following World Cup after winning it in this century) is the work without the ball. Spain ran but badly, lacking focus and interest to recover the ball back. It was all in the second half after a decent first half. But only decent, as Holland had warned twice of their danger, in offsides that could have not been given and a Sneijder chance, before their goal. There were warning signs, but now it is about pride. They have the quality and personality to recover, but the generation is finished.
SCOLARI ON BRAZIL CRITICISM
HE SAID:“In my opinion, my opinion not yours, I think the team has played ten per cent better than when we played Croatia.”
GUILLEM’S ASSESSMENT: He has to say that, doesn’t he? Filipao clearly went into that press conference to play the ‘the world against us’ card. He is mostly a man manager; capable of cutting out match reports with the qualifications that Brazilian papers like to put by players, and then putting them under a player's door with the message, ‘look, this paper wants you out of the team’. That is Filipao at his best. So in the presser he went for the battle with the press and came out with that rubbish line. Brazil did not have a midfield to control the game. Sometimes you saw Alves or Marcelo in the center of the midfield! Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho are not creative enough and Neymar had to drop too deep to get the ball. They were, basically, all over the place. They will not win the World Cup like that.
MEXICO GOALKEEPER GUILLERMO OCHOA
HE SAID:"It was very difficult, and I'm delighted to leave the field with the zero on the scoreboard. It was the game of my life."
GUILLEM’S ASSESSMENT: So often the villains, and sometimes the heroes. I was a goalkeeper as a kid. Every goal was a defeat - you feel you belong to a different group within the group. You train apart, you are slightly worse (or in my case much worse) with the ball at your feet. You enter the piggy-in-the-middle exercises and stay too often for too long in the centre running around trying to get the ball back until you end up doing a leg-breaking tackle to regain some dignity. Hard job being a goalie. So every time a goalie succeeds I raise a glass for him.
PAULO BENTO ON PEPE RED
HE SAID: “The sending off was forced on the player. I don’t know if it was because of Pepe’s reputation. It depends what sort of a reputation you think Pepe has. As of now, it is an even greater one for unreliability than he had before.”
GUILLEM’S ASSESSMENT: Yeah, right. It was the reputation that hit Müller in the face…