DANNY MILLS: Opening game against Italy boosts chances of escaping difficult group

Danny Mills on England's World Cup draw
Danny Mills on England's World Cup draw
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LOOKING at England’s qualifying group, it’s a group of ‘almost death’ isn’t it? There were two or three harder groups we could have been in, but equally a few groups that are much easier.

But while it won’t be easy, especially against Italy and Uruguay, I think there will be a massive amount of realism among the English public and expectations will be slightly lowered.

If we had got an easy group, everybody would have expected us to win it. And let’s face it, England have never dealt with the expectation to win particularly well. Look at 2010.

I remember my own experiences in 2002 when I was a Leeds United player and we were in a really tough group with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria and we still qualified. We weren’t expected to beat Argentina at all and while we face Italy and Uruguay next summer, we might just come up with a win. You never know.

Personally, I actually do think that it is a touch fortunate that our first game is in Manaus, although I know a lot of people won’t have been keen on that.

For me, the first games of World Cups can be cagey and tense. So if England can get a draw against Italy, it could set us up.

In terms of the next game against Uruguay, a draw would be a decent result. That leaves us with Costa Rica, who you would expect us to beat.

Obviously, we play Costa Rica in our final game. It could be that things go down to goal difference between us and Italy and it might depend on how many we score against the group ‘minnows’, assuming Uruguay win all their games and we draw with Italy.

But looking at Costa Rica, they could well put up a performance against somebody. Hopefully, not us.

Overall, our group is tough to call. I’d put Uruguay as favourites and then England and Italy as neck-and-neck in second behind them. The final group game between Italy and Uruguay could also be interesting and it could be that both need a draw – and if that is the case, I would put a lot of money on a draw. Simple as that.

Five points is usually enough to qualify and four points, if we are lucky, might be.

For me, the last thing I would have wanted was Costa Rica in the opener in Manaus. That would have been disastrous because if we drew them there, we would have been really up against it.

England’s side of the draw isn’t particularly easy, either. If they do finish second in the group, they are likely to face Colombia in the first knockout round, which won’t be easy. After that, it’s likely to be Brazil, Holland, Spain or Italy in the quarters. Seriously, I don’t see England going beyond that.

If we get out of the group and get a bit of momentum into the quarter-final stage, fair enough. But getting out of the group will be very difficult.

The hardest group to call is also the toughest, with Spain and Holland taking on Chile and Australia.

Chile can be exceptional on their day, as they showed recently at Wembley.

Holland are also a top side and looking at it, could the Dutch or Chile beat Spain? Possibly. Could they all beat each other? Yes.

Then, there’s Australia and while everyone will say they will struggle to get a point, they might come up with one performance where they do something out of the blue. For me, it’s a difficult group to predict who will finish where.

Don’t forget that Spain have been slow starters at World Cups in the past.

Nobody really wanted to be in with Brazil, but that doesn’t really look like a bad group with the rest of the teams – Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon – seemingly beatable.

The German group also looks very tough with Portugal, Ghana and USA... It just goes to show that things could have been a lot worse for Roy Hodgson’s men.

I know a lot has been made of the travelling aspect in Brazil and the different venues and variations in conditions. But I believe the England players will be fine, it’s all about having the chance to play in a World Cup finals.

Yes, they will be clocking up some miles, but so will most teams in the tournament – even Brazil.

What I will say is that it will be difficult for the fans. I can tell supporters now, having travelled around Brazil myself, that getting to Manaus will not be easy.

It is going to be a long, tough journey and the airports out there will not be fantastic. You are basically on the edge of the Amazon.

That said, the other group games against Uruguay and Costa Rica in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte are quite close to Rio, where England’s base is going to be.

That will not be a massive problem for fans or players.

Some England fans may almost be prepared to miss the opening group game because if they base themselves in Rio, they can get to the other two locations with no major problems.

Before South Africa, Brazil were the only team to win a World Cup outside their own continent, so it will be difficult for the European teams. Playing in South America is a big plus for Brazil and Argentina, for me.

Personally, I don’t see beyond Brazil and Argentina to win the competition, but if I did have to pick a European team to challenge them, then I would have to say Spain or Germany.

It will be a fascinating World Cup, that’s for sure.