Talk about hype…
Rooney’s return to the England setup has threatened to overshadow preparations for Saturday’s clash with Paraguay, to the extent that both Beckham and Eriksson had to categorically insist that “all eyes were focused on Paraguay”. And they had better be, as this match will set the tone for the rest of the event for England.
Gerrard’s injury scare is very real, despite the positive spin being put on it. He’s 50-50 to play in the Paraguay game, and what’s more worrying for England is that they would prefer Gerrard to be fit for Sweden – meaning Gerrard might play a small part in the Paraguay match. Carrick would be the obvious replacement, although Owen Hargreaves could also feature.
Rooney is definitely out – Gary Neville is back and the only remaining worries are the match fitness concerns surrounding Ashley Cole and Michael Owen. England still have enough class to edge them out, with Cole, Beckham, Lampard and Owen the main attacking threats (although you can never disregard Crouchie). Expect Walcott to play a super-sub role (replacing Owen, most likely) if things go well.
Rooney takes on Terry in practice
The good news (Rooney’s back into contact training) will buoy England, and so will the massive expectations. They are still vulnerable to a fast start by the opposition, although in this case Beckham and co. would want to land the the first blows very quickly.
They will find England’s attack hard to handle, and their suspect defense means that they would be relying on their strikers to put England under pressure. Paraguay lack experience in these environments, plus their record suggests that they would be lucky to secure second place (assuming they can negotiate their Sweden match safely).
The team has talked tough, but they would have seen England against Hungary and Jamaica and would be very worried about the threat from set pieces. They are liable to leak goals.
A scrappy 2-1 win for England.