James – 7 – Good safe hands for the majority of the match. He looked a calm, experienced head in a crunch game.
Johnson – 5 – Anything he did in the match, of which there was little good, was completely overshadowed by his persistent cheating. He was eventually booked for exaggerating contact, but he was very lucky to get away with a couple of other dives.
Terry – 7.5 – I was actually impressed with Terry, he was good at the back, was unlucky not to score and put in an exceptional, vital block. More of the same please.
Upson – 6 – Made one good block, but the rest of his game wasn’t really up to much. Somehow, he’s even slower than Carragher.
Cole – 7.5 – Not up to the level he performs at for Chelsea, but much, much better. He really got down the flank and gave his full-back a nightmare. How much better would he be with a left winger to help him out?
Milner – 8 MotM – His crossing ranged between awful and inch perfect, but his all round performance was probably as good as any England player this tournament.
Barry – 7 – A good, quiet game from Barry, but his forwards distribution left a lot to be desired at times.
Lampard – 6 – He still hasn’t really impressed, he missed a good chance and everything he did well was cancelled out by a mistake.
Gerrard – 6 – He looked dangerous throughout the game, but he completely abandoned his position on the left hand side time after time.
Defoe – 6 – Got the winner, but that was almost his only touch of the game and I’m far from convinced by him.
Rooney – 6 – Better than his shocker against Algeria, but he looked low on confidence and was making poor decisions.
Cole – 6 – Didn’t have a huge impact on the game.
Heskey – 6 – Also didn’t have a huge impact on the game, but was at least a decent calming presence who was a useful get out ball in the tense last few minutes.
It’s been a long time in coming, but England has finally arrived at the World Cup. Like our tournament to date, we started off sluggishly but unlike the tournament so far, we had a real flourish in the 25 minutes prior to half time and it continued for about 20 minutes after the break. In that period, we looked like we could have scored three or four and it was a complete turnaround from the last two games. We mustn’t get carried away, however.
England have scored in the middle of a good spell! What, really?
Slovenia is not a team of world beaters. Slovenia is a team who finished in third place in a bog standard World Cup group and who never had any real hope of getting beyond the group stage. They are not a top, top team and there are certain things that we got away with against them that we will not get away with against the likes of Spain, Brazil and Uruguay (who remain my tip for the trophy). For a start, I’m a long, long way from being convinced by Jermain Defoe up front. He scored the winning goal and that’s a big plus, even if it did go in off his shin. Would Heskey have gotten himself in that position to score? It’s unlikely. That was one of Defoe’s only touches over the course of the match, however, whereas Heskey would be involved in most of England’s attacks. It would be alright if Defoe were the sort of player who will pop up almost every single game with a goal, but he isn’t, at all. It’s all a bit of a quandary really, and I don’t envy Capello for having to make the call on Sunday. The more I look at it, we really are very, very weak up front. Defoe, Heskey and Crouch are all limited players and none of them is a world beater. Even in Euro 2000 we had two very good strikers to call on in Shearer and Owen. This year, we just have Rooney.
Secondly, Capello has to spend a lot of time thinking about what he does with his captain. Steven Gerrard simply does not work out on the left wing. He does not behave with any of the positional discipline that you would expect of a left winger. Instead, he plays the same game that he plays for Liverpool when he plays in the centre, apart from when defending in which case he drops back over to the left hand side. Throughout the game Gerrard appears all over the pitch when England has possession, but he is never where he is supposed to be. The ultimate effect is that we are left short if we ever move the ball over to the left and as good as he is, Ashley Cole cannot consistently take on two opposition defenders on his own. For what it’s worth I would move Gerrard to the middle, take out Lampard and put Joe Cole on the left. Bizarrely, Capello doesn’t seem to have considered this, as he showed when he brought on Cole to play behind the main striker while Gerrard stayed out wide. Gerrard’s indiscipline will cost us in both defence and attack against the better teams unless it is nipped in the bud now.
We can at least be pleased with the performance that James Milner put in. Aaron Lennon is a good player, but there was something missing from his game against the US and Algeria. His failure to use his pace to get down the line to put a cross meant that he offered just as little in attack as he did defence. Milner, however, was a revelation after his bizarre cameo against the US. He was constantly getting balls into the box and whilst they were a bit hit and miss, when he got it right he got it very right indeed. The cross for the goal was inch perfect and there were one or two others that he put into the right areas. He’s a player who has really come on quietly over the past few years and he is now starting to demonstrate why he is such a crucial player for Aston Villa. In a team that has been blighted by workshy, arrogant prima donnas, it’s nice to see a quiet and hardworking player who also has a bit of talent. Hopefully we’ll get a repeat performance against the Germans.
James Milner's performance was a revelation, hopefully he could become the star of this tournament for England
I have already mentioned in this article and others that I think Wayne Rooney is our only world class player. For some reason, however, he just hasn’t turned up so far. A change of strike partners hasn’t helped him and every minute that passes over the course of the game just seems to place more and more weight on his shoulders. I think that he’s being affected by a combination of a lingering injury and feeling the massive, massive pressure that’s on him to perform. The press are quite happy to remind him every time he sees them that he’s seen as the single creative spark that England has who is capable of single-handedly winning the World Cup. He’s constantly told that he’s the best English player for a whole generation. I think once he gets one goal, he could well get another and the pressure would start to alleviate a little, but a lack of confidence caused by the pressure then begins to come into play. Against Slovenia, he quite often chose to pass when he would have been able to shoot, or shoot when he would have been better off passing. He had an excellent chance to score, but he fluffed his lines and ended up taking his shot with the ball already behind him. It was a top quality save, but a poor miss, regardless of whether or not he thought he was offside. I think we’ve seen the back of the player who will get so frustrated that he’ll lash out on the nearest opposition player, so with careful management that shouldn’t be a worry for us, but he needs something to happen for him soon because he’s currently becoming a liability. Worse than that, he’s an undroppable liability, somebody who England cannot do without, but who is holding England back.
Of course, a good 45 minute spell across the middle of the match won’t be enough for us to beat the Germans. There’s a reason that they haven’t failed to reach the quarter finals since 1936 and it is engrained into their football culture. We cannot afford to let the game go beyond extra time; we must win it before the dreaded penalty shootout. Do that and maybe, just maybe I’ll let myself suspect that it could be our year. We can potentially face Argentina in the quarter-finals and Portugal in the semi-finals, should we beat the Germans. It’s all lined up for us to take our revenge for so many footballing disasters over the years. I’m feeling strangely optimistic.
Let's try not to take on the Germans at their own game, let's just beat them in ordinary time instead.