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.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. There was nothing heroic about it. France's display could be termed heroic. England's was shambolic – balls were given away too cheaply, we had to defend because Portugal were coming at us so much and the penalty takers lost their balls.

    You can't breed a winning team by calling a defeat heroic – its the English mentality that has to stop before we're ever going to win anything.

    01 Jul 2006, 22:30

  2. Alex Lim

    I think you are being a bit too harsh; compared to the previous games, England's retention of the ball was much better – there was much less of the long ball. Granted, with 10 men, the long ball to Crouch was more frequent, but if anything, this was to try and alleviate pressure and give the back four time to regroup. Given the circumstances, you cannot call the performance shambolic. Obviously, you don't concur, but to me (and speaking from experience), being able to keep a clean sheet for prolonged periods of intense pressure, with 10 men, IS something to be proud of. If England had fully gone for the win with only 10 men, there was always the very realistic possibility that they would be stung by a Portuguese counter. Here, I agree with Mark Lawrenson's view that England's best chance at scoring was from a set–piece.

    I also disagree with your statement about the English mentality calling a defeat heroic. True, we've come to almost expect England to fail – but this time, there was a real genuine belief that it could be done. However, everyone, bar the England squad it seems, was frustrated and anxious to find out why England had failed, for all their potential and class, to put in convincing winning performances in the tournament. Now that England are out, I think a lot of people want answers to a lot of questions – and that many individuals will be in for harsh criticism. You may be surprised by the English mentality you will see in the near future.

    As for the penalty takers losing their balls – again, a tad unfair. The English, when confronted with penalties, definitely have a 'oh no, not again' mentality. Contrast this to the strong confidence and belief of the Germans. Eriksson said they've trained every day for penalties – so they were ready; so that leads me to believe it is something to do with the English mindset – how you go about changing that, I don't know.

    Having said all this – I don't want to make excuses for the team. England SHOULD be in the semi–finals of the World Cup now. They had the players capable of winning the tournament, and were playing a Portugal side deprived of two key players – ultimately it seems, they were not helped by the manager's decisions. It is only right that a stern post–mortem be carried out. Hopefully, McClaren will have the courage to make the right decisions, drop who needs to be dropped, and help England to do better in Euro 2008.

    02 Jul 2006, 00:35

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