All entries for Saturday 01 July 2006

July 01, 2006

Heroic display from 10 man England – but penalties the downfall again.

Well, that's it then, England's World Cup dream over for another 4 years; and personally, I'm gutted. So much potential, so much talk of the imminent 'performance', so much expectation; but ultimately, England failed, again.

England, I felt, played well in the game. They maintained possession very well, were patient, and were actually playing football (instead of the long ball). They started brightly; but peculiarly, their best performance came after Rooney was sent off. And, as a Man Utd fan, I'm dismayed to say Christiano Ronaldo's conduct was atrocious; granted Rooney's challenge was heavy, but for Ronaldo to come running in and ask for his Man Utd colleague to be carded was disgraceful. If Rooney was sent off for the shove on Ronaldo, then that too is also disgraceful.

For the hour England were forced to play with 10 men, they gave a truly heroic performance. To hold out against the Portuguese, who were constantly trying to stretch the England back line, for so long, was a marvellous achievement, and something to be proud of. Peter Crouch did ever so well holding up the ball, and alleviating pressure on a tiring midfield and defence. Owen Hargreaves, as well, what a performance; constantly running, tackling and marking, I'm sure he's overcome the boo–boys in this tournament (scoring England's only penalty will have helped too). With 10 men – England gave a great (some would say their best) team performance.

But, alas, penalties was the undoing. Firstly, immense credit has to go to Ricardo, the Portuguese goalkeeper; he is truly a world–class penalty stopper. Secondly, however (and this is a small point), the standard of England's penalties (Hargreaves the exception) was poor – to see Lampard and Gerrard take such poor penalties was disappointing, as these are two players you'd normally bet your house on would score.
But, it's unfair to criticise the penalty–takers, and ultimately, we know they're a lottery. If the keeper guesses correctly, you're unlucky.

The post–mortem as to why this golden generation failed to progress beyond the quarter–finals will begin in earnest. You look at the names in the team – Lampard, Gerrard, Cole (both), Rooney, Terry, Ferdinand – big game players; definite world beaters. So why are they out?

I'd like to put forward a few reasons. Firstly, we HAVE to come back to the squad selection; Eriksson's decision to bring so many midfielders ,and only 4 strikers (2 of which weren't fully fit) has proven to be foolish.

Secondly, England's formation; the World Cup is no time to be stumbling into your best formation, or for experimentation – all this stuff should be resolved in the friendlies. Of course, one cannot foresee circumstances such as losing your main forward, but contingency plans of some sort should be in place – to me, this did not seem to be the case. Again, we could come back to squad selection; had Eriksson opted for one less midfielder (why bring Jermaine Jenas?) and taken a proven goalscorer in Jermaine Defoe – there would have been no, or certainly less of, a need for experimentation with formations.

Thirdly, there seemed to be a lack of creativity, of flair; things we expect from Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole et al at club level. Responsibility for this lies with the players of course, but, ultimately, it is management who implement a game plan, and the players follow it. England have rightfully been criticised as being 'boring', playing too safe – we never saw fluidity, free–flowing football and dominance of the kind Argentina produced, and of which England are certainly capable.

Fourthly, a lack of strength in depth – and again this comes down to squad selection. England's first team is immense; but looking at the subs, there do not seem to be many players that are truly world class, that can make a difference. Exceptions are Aaron Lennon and perhaps Carrick – but, in extra time, there wasn't anybody on the bench that you felt could truly swing things England's way.

From reading the above, you may conclude that much of the blame lies at the feet of Sven–Goran Eriksson, and unfortunately, I would have to agree with this assessment. Up to now, England's flat, 'just enough' performances were justified by the response that 'we've won the game, so why complain?'. But now England have to bear, and accept, the inevitable criticism.

Looking to the future; I think it is a good thing England will part company with Sven. It's time for a new system, new management – and hopefully, in Steve McClaren, a manager who will guide England to European glory in two years time. However, Germany 2006 will rightfully be considered an opportunity missed.

July 2006

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