Despite being favorites to win this match with considerable ease, the omens before kickoff were not positive for England. The Three Lions have won only one of their opening matches in a major campaign since 1986 and have failed to score in the second half of a match since the World Cup in 1998. The result was far from emphatic but England did manage to right one of these statistics today with a nervous win in the blistering heat.
Arguably the strongest English line up for many competitions had seen the nation’s hopes rise to almost astronomical level but England are a team that rarely deliver all they are expected to, especially not in the first game of the tournament. However, things looked like they could have been very different today when in the fourth minute the enigmatic English skipper, David Beckham, stood forward and delivered a crisp free kick into the box that was deftly flicked into the Paraguayan goal by their own defender Carlos Gamarra.
England continued to attack well leaving Paraguay with few attacking chances. However, despite having a majority of possession and some finely driven efforts from Lampard, smart play from Joe Cole and blatantly obvious defensive frailties from the Paraguay side England failed to make it tell and went into the interval with just a slender 1 – 0 lead.
Also of note in the first half were some incredible decisions by the official Marco Rodriguez. Paraguay were forced to bring on their number 2 goalkeeper, Bobadilla, in just the 8th minute after Villar fell awkwardly attempting to clear the ball. Within minutes of his unexpected arrival on the pitch, Bobadilla was penalized for time wasting when he held the ball for slightly longer than the allowed 6 seconds. Rodriguez continued throughout the game to make what can only be classed as dreadful refereeing decisions.
The last couple of minutes of the first half saw Paraguay begin to settle into their game a little more as England allowed them time on the ball and to set their own tempo for the game. While England may have been unlucky not to have gone into the break with a greater advantage and the searing heat must have caused the players to tire quicker than usual, there were few genuine excuses that could hide their poor performance. They gave the ball away frequently and did nothing with the little possession they did manage. The game was effectively killed off in the 56th minute when one of England’s two strikers, Michael Owen, was replaced leaving Peter Crouch as a lone striker.
Both sides proceeded to waste opportunities but it was Paraguay who looked far the brighter side in the second half. England may have broken the long-lived tradition of losing their opener but had the match been against a greater opposition it is highly likely they would have struggled to take the full three points.