It's a draw of two halves (and England are in the hard half)

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The Independent Football

It is a draw of two halves – and England happen to be in the wrong half.

It really doesn't need any more explaining than that, but perhaps some brief analysis is advisable – if only to understand this World Cup anomaly and confirm, once and for all, that luck never came into it.

Of course, everyone by now knows that Landon Donovan's last-second strike for the United States against Algeria on Wednesday meant England facing Germany tomorrow instead of Ghana. And everyone also acknowledges that England had nobody but themselves – and Robert Green – to blame for finishing second in the group.

So, going into last night's final group matches, the popular, and ever-so slightly optimistic, wisdom said that after Germany, England would beat Argentina, Spain and then finally Brazil to lift the cup. Meanwhile, for the dreamers in America it would go: Ghana, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina or Spain. In other words, the Group C winners have an inviting path into the semi-finals – and the Group C runners-up have the Pamplona bull-run.

But wait, you say, why – after you gave Spain the hypothetical win over Chile last night – was there such a discrepancy between the quality lining up on the right and the left sides of that wall-chart in the kitchen? Why did the side nearest the toaster boast five teams ranked in the world top 10 and why did the side nearest the microwave boast just two? Is this yet another Fifa cock-up of Sepp Blatter proportions?

Very weirdly it isn't. While England must share plenty of the fault for giving the draw a lopsided feel then so, too, very obviously must Italy and France. Indeed, the 1998 and 2006 champions couldn't even finish as runners-up. If they had, England would go into tomorrow's game uncomfortable in the knowledge that victory would give them a quarter-final against Argentina or France.

That is the one small mercy in a knock-out route otherwise blockaded by missions implausible. In his manful style, Fabio Capello chose to dismiss coming first or second "as not important to me".

Yet he is talking out of his culo. As an Italian, he knows only too well the hand the draw plays in a successful campaign. Four years ago, Italy had to beat the might of Australia and Ukraine to get into the semis. The other side of the draw featured Brazil, Spain, England, Portugal and the eventual finalists France.

So is it important? Not half.

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