Raheem Sterling put in a good performance. Photo: Getty
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England's impressive start to the World Cup: can they make it through the group of death?

Italy's star players prevailed, but Roy Hodgson's young team made a splash in their first game.

It is hard to remember England making a more impressive start in a major tournament, and hard also to feel other than encouraged by much of what we saw last night. From the moment that Raheem Sterling crashed his shot so narrowly wide in the opening minutes there was a feeling that this young side could achieve against the odds in their "group of death".

Italy are, however, experienced and tough competitors and it was the excellence of their star players that took them through. Hard, though, to disagree with Alan Shearer, who appears to have upped his game for the World Cup as a pundit in a way he never really did as a player, that Rooney's second-half miss was a crucial moment. "Wazza's" failure also to adapt to the defensive side of the role assigned to him left Baines regularly exposed down England's left flank. No doubt the press barons will give him no mercy, which is harsh since it was his superb cross that set up Sturridge's marvellous finish for England's quick-fire reply to Italy's well-worked opener. If there was scope for improvement in some aspects of the defensive performance, there was disappointment that our return from set pieces was minimal, whereas Italy threatened regularly from theirs.

So on to Thursday and Uruguay: the Suarez showdown. England's early contribution to this World Cup is so far impressive. Our young team have made a splash, Roy Hodgson demonstrates dignity and calm, looking perfectly at home at this level, keeping expectations to sensible proportions, and getting a real performance out of an inexperienced squad. On the political front Greg Dyke has emerged as a considerable figure on world football's administrative stage, a man of integrity leading Europe's challenge to Blatter's crass chicanery and deceit. In this respect we have taken the lead, and Germany with Beckenbauer, a sad disgraced figure, and Platini for UEFA and France compromised by his association with the Qatar bid have given us an unlikely starring role among Europe's superpowers.

Let us hope that our players have not given their best shot in defeat and the next two games give us an opportunity to make our presence felt at the highest and most important levels on the pitch. Come on England!

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.