It's all in your World Cup

Friday, June 16, 2006

Day the seventh

Ecuador - Costa Rica 3-0

Another day, another missed game. I should've taken the month off. In keeping with previous games I've only enjoyed in highlight form, there were some very good goals. The idea that Ecuador might top this group could make the game between England and Sweden a farce, with both competing to finish second and avoid Germany. There's definitely more to be said about Ecuador, they are surprisingly strong and technical, and as a Southampton fan, I always had a sneaky feeling that Delgado could finish, which is being vindicated quite superbly. However, there are more important matters to consider, so Ecuador will have to wait.

England - Trinidad & Tobago 2-0

Before this game, someone asked me how I thought England would do. I replied that they'd make incredibly hard work of breaking down a vastly inferior side, and then make the result look pretty with a couple of late goals. This is classic England, and obviously, if playing crap and winning with late goals was an established footballing tactic, it would be a solid gold winner. Unfortunately, it isn't. This England side is playing as poorly as any I can remember in the last 10 years; they are devoid of movement even against the most unpromising of opponents, the midfield are constantly looking to play game-ending passes over the top of the opposition for Owen to chase, hubristically secure in the notion that he's still the teenager of 1998, rather than the forlorn, half-fit Owen of today who doesn't seem capable of lasting more than 60 minutes of football. At times today England looked scared of a side made up of players almost uniformly making their living outside of the top two divisions of the national leagues they play in.

The lack of a ball playing midfielder has to be rectified, but for me this is only a partial solution. Earlier today Mark K-Punk pointed out that Italy had substantially less possession than Ghana in their comfortable 2-0 victory of a couple of nights ago. Now leaving aside the fact that if Ghana had a finisher the equal of their midfielders that scoreline might have looked substantially different, there are significant differences between what the Italians seek to do with possession and what England attempt. The Italians are patient, occasionally too patient. The English philosophy seems to be one of instant attack; the ball has to be played over great distances, into galloping space in front of the striker or winger. How many times today did the ball just pop out of play, or skip into the path of a waiting defender? It's this style of play that sees us frequently invite pressure, exactly as we did against Portugal at Euro 2004.

The Portugal game, and the Brazil game of 2002 before it give ample evidence that England are not always capable of raising their game against good opposition. The idea that they will only cede the initiative to Paraguay and T&T just doesn't stand up to historical examination. For some time England have been happy to let far more technical teams batter them, in the hope that a hoofed cleared and the pace of Rooney or Owen will secure the odd goal to see them through. It hasn't worked before, so why will it work now?

The appearance of Lennon should be applauded though, as for once Eriksson made positive changes, but he is unlikely to feature in the starting line up - the experiment with Beckham in the centre of the pitch has already been proven a failure, so we can face the fact that any players in the squad with pace, direction and hunger will be reduced to late game cameos, and against the odds missions to salvage already lost games.

All that said, nice finish from Gerrard. Especially nice to see an England player scoring emphatically with his 'wrong' foot.

Sweden - Paraguay 1-0

Had Sweden been watching the England match and planning some vast ironic spectacle where they attempted to replicate all the failings of the previous game? They did not improve at all from their abjectness against T&T and the decision to replace Ibrahimovic with the irredeemably crap Allback was mystifying. All adds up to England - Sweden being a salivatory prospect...

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