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Getting the Group Rate on Life and Death

June 15, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to the Times

Hello from the Group of Life, where for a spell Wednesday, you could wager on whether Wayne Rooney will play for England today as a late-game substitution.

Yes, or no.

"Yes" provided more wagering value.

If each World Cup draw brings a "Group of Death," anointed for its incomparable rigor among the eight groups, England 2006 surely occupies the Group of Life, or the Group of Tranquillity, or the Group of So Few Worries We Spent All Day Yesterday Following the Metatarsal Melodrama Rather Than Worry About Trinidad and Tobago.

Having already scraped past South America's last qualifier, Paraguay, and then moaned about the intensive heat -- in June, duh -- England today can clinch passage to the knockout round with a win over Trinidad and Tobago, the last qualifier in sports' most remarkable acronym, CONCACAF.

That's not to belittle Trinidad and Tobago's amazing Soca Warriors, who reached Germany by winning in November at Bahrain as miffed-at-the-ref Bahrain fans threw seat covers and soldiers took the field for protection.

It's just that this match brings out one of the two arch sides of the English football personality -- not the finely honed fret, but the curious overconfidence here that comes from housing a dominant league but qualifies as durable given that ENGLAND HASN'T WON A WORLD CUP IN 40 YEARS.

Now, Trinidad and Tobago once counted among the British Empire's many possessions, for about 150 years, beginning in the early 19th century when England snared Trinidad from Spain and finally won Tobago from the Dutch and French.

It's a place where, touchingly, the citizens in Port of Spain, the capital, danced and cried and hugged strangers last Saturday after

It's a former colony slightly smaller than Delaware, not a threat, and so to be in London Wednesday was to follow the protracted saga of whether Rooney will play.

First, the star striker broke his fourth right metatarsal on April 29. Then he rehabilitated fervently. Then England Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said Rooney could play in the World Cup as early as June 20 against Sweden. Then Rooney's employer, Manchester United Coach Sir Alex Ferguson, got irked at that.

Then Eriksson began speculating that Rooney, match-fit, could substitute against Trinidad and Tobago. Then England's football association, reportedly worried Manchester United might get irked and sic lawyers, told Eriksson that Rooney should wait.

Then ...

So we're thick into the World Cup, and the biggest issue here concerns whether somebody might come in during, say, the 68th minute.

That's the Group of Life.

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