Archive for June, 2010

Capello’s errors but the world continues without England!!

June 29th, 2010 No comments

Roy Keane has spoken and said the problem with England isn’t the manager at all it’s that the players.   A fair point I agree with but the point has to be made that FabCap has made some big errors.  There was that daft Capello index that would have made public his innermost thoughts on his players.  A foolish inflammatory notion that was only ever going to divide the camp.  In a rare moment of positive intelligent action The FA instructed him to scrap the silly idea.   Another mistake was  taking four forwards as usual.  Surely, he could have taken note of his friend and compatriot Marcello Lippi’s decision to take six forwards in 2006.  Instead of doing something different to create different attacking options it was same old same old.   The most visible error was the whole approach to the players.  It is widely alleged he used to the same unstinting sergeant major approach he uses at clubs and in normal England  camps.   This is usually his method but a tournament like this throws up a situation a rarely encountered by any manager of any profession. You can’t put the same rigid discipline programme in place for six weeks you usually have in place for five days.    Grouped up together for weeks on end the players are bound to get bored and fractious with each other.  Apparently, towards the end, FabCap wavered a bit in his dogmatic approach but to get to that point much damage had already been done.   He says he wants to stay on as manager, but if there is discussions taking place in the dusty FA rooms his position could be more precarious than first thought.  I hope he does stay, but these mistakes mustn’t be repeated if we qualify for Poland and Ukraine in 2012.   But, the point has to be made,  the majority of the 2010  bucks lies with the players. 

Somehow the World Cup is bravely limping and stumbling on without England.   And after the slow start it’s become a cracking competition.   The six knockout games so far have had an average of over 3 goals a game with no penalty shootouts  required.   Brazil’s third against Chile was very special.   They now face The Netherlands in what could prove to be an intense war of attrition.  Argentina v Mexico saw the evil genius Maradona patrolling the touchline with his usual excitable unhinged demeanour.   They were fortunate to get the offside goal but when Tevez scored the third he could be forgiven for wanting to tell a certain Shrekky scouser  THAT’S how to write the future!  

Portugal v Spain later.   The first knockout match between two sides with genuine aspirations to win the trophy.   Every side in a tournament like this will cause problems but they will both know that with the winner facing Paraguay or Japan there  could be much harder ways to get to a World Cup semi final.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Germany

June 28th, 2010 No comments

James – 6 – Did as well as he could given the defence that was stuck in front of him.

Johnson – 4 – Does this guy ever actually bother defending?

Terry – 3 – Exposed, once again, as a national joke.

Upson – 4 – Credit for the goal, but the man is a Championship defender at best. “Go on Matty, pretend it’s just Ricardo Fuller…”

Cole – 5 – I kind of sympathise with him because he was left completely exposed by his left winger, but this was pretty poor all the same.

Milner – 5 – Put in the only decent cross of the day, but contributed very little otherwise.

Lampard – 4 – Just as woeful as he’s been throughout the tournament.

Barry – 4 – One paced and incapable of moving the ball forwards.

Gerrard – 3 – No positional sense, no discipline and no guts, but an almighty ego.

Defoe – 4 – Hit the bar while standing offside. Other than that, he made no contribution whatsoever.

Rooney – 4 – Yet again, almost every time he touched the ball it went to a German.

J. Cole – 5 – Looked no better than anybody else when he came on.

Heskey – 5 – Did absolutely nothing.

Wright-Phillips – 5 – Came on because Johnson had hurt himself. Capello should have left him on the pitch instead.

How embarrassing it was to listen to the BBC’s pre-match broadcast, where we were told by their panel of ‘experts’ that England had a much stronger team man for man and that you wouldn’t swap any English players for any German players. Straight away, I knew that that statement was nonsense, and I suspect that plenty of other people knew that as well. Off the top of my head I can honestly say that I would have quite happily swapped Mertesacker for Upson, Schweinsteiger for Barry, Ozil for Lampard, Klose for Defoe, Lahm for Johnson and Friedrich for Terry. That’s just off the top of my head. But, of course, this is England’s ‘golden generation’, a collection of, ahem, the world’s greatest players who are better than everyone else and anything less than winning the World Cup is underachievement. This ridiculous level of media hype, that certain England players appear to have started to believe, is crippling the England team. As Phillip Lahm said after the game, ‘maybe they underestimated us because our players are not as famous as the English players’. Germany showed us how to play and win football matches at this level: possession is nothing; you just need to have a solid defence and a team with no stars but one creative spark. Whenever you get the ball, you move it forward as quickly and accurately as possible with the object of creating chances. Everybody works hard and does their job for the team. That is why the Germany is a successful footballing nation, while the latest adventures of the ‘golden generation’ have resulted in a second round humiliation.

Lampard and Schweinsteiger

Lampard for Schweinsteiger: two that I'd have loved to have swapped before the game.

I can’t go much further without putting the ‘golden generation’ myth to bed. You could look in almost every position in this current England team and replace the incumbent player with an England player from the last 20 years. In fact, let’s just look at the four year period in between Euro ’96 and the 2002 World Cup, the last tournament before the ‘golden generation’. At this World Cup England have been able to choose Rooney alongside Defoe, Heskey or Crouch up front. Even in the botched Euro 2000 campaign, England had two very good strikers in Shearer and Owen, with the likes of Phillips and Cole in reserve. That’s four strikers who are better than any of Rooney’s potential partners, without even considering Sheringham at Euro 96. If you go back to the World Cup in 1998, you could have Michael Owen in the best form of his career before the injuries took their toll, so from the last 14 years, I’d have Owen and Shearer up front. In goal, Seaman is a better goal keeper than Green or James, while at centre-back Tony Adams was a much, much better player than John Terry currently is and anybody out of Sol Campbell, Gareth Southgate, Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand would be better than Upson. Gary Neville in his prime easily beats Glen Johnson and it’s only really at left back where you have to actually think about replacing the current player. Ashley Cole is one of the best left backs in the world, no doubt about that, so it’s a complete toss-up as to whether or not you’d put his polar opposite, Stuart Pearce, in his place. In midfield, even at his current age Paul Scholes is much better than Lampard, Gerrard or Barry so he’d breeze his way into the centre, while Paul Gascoigne had more creativity than the rest of the current squad put together. To be honest, I’d probably prefer Paul Ince, David Batty and David Platt to the likes of Barry and Carrick. On the right, a fully fit David Beckham from 2002 would be better than James Milner and would offer the England team more from set pieces. The left of midfield has always been a problem position for England, but even Darren Anderton or Nicky Barmby would be a better option than watching Gerrard spend the full 90 minutes abandoning his position and leaving his full-back exposed. So there you have it, the best England team that you could put together from the last 14 years is Seaman, G. Neville, Adams, Campbell, Pearce, Beckham, Scholes, Gascoigne, Anderton, Shearer and Owen. The only player from the supposed ‘golden generation’ to even come close to getting a look in is Ashley Cole. Going back even further, I don’t think that it’s too much of a push to say that the ‘golden generation’ has, in fact, produced the worst England team for at least 20 years. That sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration, but when you look at the teams and players that could potentially have been fielded over the years, you realise that it is actually true.

The Golden Generation

The last hurrah for the last stragglers of the 'gold generation', thank goodness.

The long and short of it is this: asides from Rooney, who is a world class player despite his awful performances, and Cole, who is still one of the best left backs in the world, the England team is massively over-rated. Steven Gerrard may be the chest-thumping talisman figure for Liverpool who pops up every now and then with a vital goal, but it’s no coincidence that as soon as Xabi Alonso packed his bags, Liverpool sank down the table. Most of England’s star players are somewhere in between mediocre and good, but are made to look like world beaters thanks to their superior foreign team-mates. Would Lampard have developed into the type of player he is for Chelsea without Makelele? He’s a good player, but he only flourishes in his role at Chelsea because he’s got plenty of superior foreign team-mates surrounding him. Chelsea tried playing in a 4-4-2 system, but Lampard couldn’t fit in and they were forced to revert to 4-3-3 so that he could benefit from having two players to back him up. If John Terry wasn’t surrounded by the likes of Alex and Carvalho, who are there to mop up every single mistake he makes, he’d be seen as a very mediocre Premier League player. I have seen him mauled and rag-dolled all over the Britannia Stadium pitch by Mamady Sidibe, a free transfer from Gillingham. I have seen his superb man-marking allow Abdoulaye Faye to score an easy header while completely unmarked. I have seen him get so fed up of failing to win a single ball in the air against Stoke that he rolled around on the floor clutching his face pretending to be injured in an effort to get a Stoke player sent off. If you couple this with his general demeanour during the game (for example, when he had realised that the referee wasn’t going to send the Stoke player off, he got straight back up to play and shouted at the referee for making him go off the pitch in accordance with the rules), you begin to realise why England fail so frequently. Pampered mediocrities led to believe that they’re the best in the world and given a free rein on the pitch by the referee.

For my money, then, a second round defeat against a strong team is probably the most that this England team were capable of. A lesser manager probably wouldn’t have even gotten us through the group stages, so there’s no sense blaming Capello. That said, he has made some very strange decisions during the tournament and they have not benefited the team. Gerrard has absolutely no positional discipline on the left hand side and so the manager should have removed him and put him either in the middle or on the substitutes’ bench. Matthew Upson is not up to Premier League football, never mind World Cup football, and so Capello would have been better off picking Dawson to partner Terry in the middle. Up front, Darren Bent was forced to miss out despite probably being a better option up front than Defoe, whilst Capello became just another in a shamefully long line of England managers to completely ignore the country’s best target man, Kevin Davies. He may be well past his best and playing for an unfashionable club, but that says more about the state of English football than it does about Kevin Davies. Capello was right to stick by his system, but he persevered with the wrong players. Lampard cannot play without two holding players behind him, so bin him, bring in someone who fits the system and move on. Gerrard doesn’t work on the left, so put him in the middle, put a real left sided player out there and move on. Rob Green is a Championship level goalkeeper and James has had a poor season, so play Joe Hart from the start and move on. Unfortunately, plenty of other things were out of Capello’s hands. Somehow, Glen Johnson is the only right-back that this country can produce. He is a player who offers little in attack at international level and whose defensive frailties are even more exposed than usual. Capello cannot single-handedly overcome the ‘player power’ culture that has come to dominate the likes of Chelsea over the years, either. If John Terry doesn’t like the manager at Chelsea, he forces him out, just like Shearer forced out plenty of Newcastle managers over the years. The England players don’t like a bit of discipline and being made to work hard, so the likes of Terry openly question the manager’s authority and methods in public in an attempt to make his position untenable and force him out. Capello cannot simply dispose of him though; if Terry went, Lampard would likely follow and then there would be media outcry as two of the darlings of the ‘golden generation’ had been senselessly exiled, despite obviously being two of the best players in the world. This current crop of England players are simply unwilling to work unless everything is dictated according to their terms and it is yet another reason why they will consistently fail to achieve anything.

The Germans gave us an exhibition of what modern football is all about. England had something like 55% of the possession in the first half, but the Germans demonstrated that possession is virtually nothing. The opposition can do what they like with the ball in their own half, so long as when they eventually give it you back, and they will if you defend properly, you move the ball forward quickly and accurately, with the focus on creating chances. England tried to play with two defenders and the Germans punished them for it. Germany was patient when England had the ball and every player kept to his position. England did a good job of forming a back eight against the USA, but as soon as the Germans invited pressure upon themselves, the England players completely lost their shape. Typically, when the Germans launched a counter attack, Gerrard would be somewhere in the vicinity of the right sided attacking midfielder’s position, Cole and Johnson would both be somewhere near the edge of the box and Lampard and Barry would be in the middle, preparing to jog back at around half the speed of their German counterparts. Three of the four goals came as a result of the Germans counter-attacking ferociously and catching the English players completely off guard and out of position, while the first was simply a routine they’d worked on in training to take advantage of one of the English defence’s weaknesses. To be honest, the Germans were a joy to watch.

So what now for the future of the English game? Well, I personally wouldn’t advocate a change of manager, although it appears to be on the cards. Capello is a very good manager who did the best he could with a bad hand and he should be given a chance to clear out the rubbish ‘stars’ from the England team before he leaves his post. It is pretty obvious, though, that fundamental changes to the English game need to be made. These are already being discussed at length and so I shall not go into that here, but I do think that the national football centre at Burton is an absolute must. As for the short term, if we must have a change in manager then there is likely to be a clamour for Redknapp or Hodgson. This is pretty reasonable, seeing as they’ve both been successful in recent seasons, but I fear that they’d just bring us more of the same. They’d go on telling us that the current English crop of players are amongst the best of the world and then try to take on the Spanish or Brazilians at their own game, resulting in defeat. If the top international teams formed a kind of ‘Premier League’, England would be the team with a big reputation but players who are, technically, massively inferior to their counterparts. There are two men in the Premier League who are good at getting results with this kind of team, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. As Pulis is Welsh, that leaves us with Allardyce. It may not be pretty, but it sure as hell will be effective. Allardyce would get the current crop of England players playing to a system which accentuated their strengths and focused on the team, rather than putting a bunch of individuals into a formation and expecting them to perform as they do for their clubs. At Newcastle, Allardyce failed because he was stuck with prima donnas who didn’t like being made to work hard and play as a team. For England, if the players didn’t want to work then Allardyce could just ship them out and bring in two destroyers instead. Defending resolutely and bullying top teams into submission may not be the prettiest way to play football, but in the short term it’s probably the only way to get the best out of the current team.

The ‘golden generation’, however, are a dead loss and need to be cut adrift as soon as possible.

Germany are better at football than England

June 28th, 2010 No comments

If Germany hadn’t scored those two second half goals the sense of grievance over Lampard’s ‘goal’ would have clouded England’s multitude of inadequacies.   Instead our players many technical deficiencies  were exposed in front of the whole world.   And, as ever, the moment we face a team with genuine aspirations to win the trophy we get knocked out.  

There’s nowhere to hide anymore.  In ninety minutes against a ruthlessly efficient German team, the myths and hubris surrounding the England team were brutally blown away.  Outfought outthought outplayed and ultimately outclassed.    All over the pitch Germany left England little traps to fall into.  And, unable to change, fall into them we did.   Each time we got the ball in the attacking third our players were boxed in and isolated.   Unable to pass the ball properly, OR maybe even dribble past an opponent (outlandish suggestion though that is)  we just ran into brick walls time and time again.   Germany were happy to condense play trusting that Englands lack of skill and tactical flexibility would largely nullify any desperate lousy halfarsed  threat we might try to conjure up.    And, of course,  they were right.   All they had to do was wait for possession (and it was rarely a long wait) and play.  The third German goal came from an England free kick.  Lampard was shooting so why not leave three back?   It’s not as if we weren’t aware of Germany’s power and pace on the break.   TCUP.  Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.  So many decisions were wrong.  

The probem is everyone will revert back to the P word.  Englands exit isn’t to do with lack of passion its to do with a players lack of ability.  The passion we crave means playing at 100mph and you can’t succeed at the top level just doing that.  Sophisticated teams can absorb it with the minimum of fuss.   So why can’t the cream of English football play differently?   Because they aren’t footballingly bright enough that’s why.  In his excellent book  The Italian Job, Gianlucca Vialli refers to players being able to ‘think football’.  Thinking football leads to flexibility  and an eagerness to try different things and test different systems.  Instead we have a situation now where any alternative to the usual method leaves England players baffled and confidence visibly drains.   For example, Lampard and Gerrard, after six years and three England managers, still can’t grasp how to play together effectively.  The problem is that we hype up the Premier League, bring in foreigners to make it more tactically astute and more gifted than the qualities we breed, sell it to almost 200 countries because of its fast paced physical conflict and its relative honesty . . . and fool ourselves that this makes the rest of the world tremble.  However, it’s painfully apparent when decent teams play England, they are aware that a side that can barely string three passes together isn’t going to cause too many problems. 

So that’s the end of that.  What happens now?  To simply call for the managers dismissal is, in this case, a quick fix for the short sighted.   The inadequacies of England team lie much deeper than the thirst for a scapegoat.   For England to metamorphosise into a trophy winning team would require a huge change in approach and the philosophy of the English game would have to totally change.  Sadly, I have no faith those who hold the vested interests of the game are prepared to take altruistic action to improve the national teams chances.  This ladies and gentlemen boys and girls, could be as good as it gets. 

I’ve just listened to an interview with Frank Lampard on the 5Live website and he indicates his goal not being given was what the game turned on.  Does he really believe that?   If ever anyone wants to know the meaning of the word deluded refer back to that.     He’s probably sitting on the plane home feeling unlucky.  Unlucky after that campaign?  Amazing head in the sand.  Hasn’t he ever watched a game  of football and seen what happens?  Unbelievable.

England. The time is now. The slate is clean.

June 27th, 2010 No comments

It’s here.  The day has arrived.  In a few hours England will face Germany in a knockout World Cup match.   The last was 1990 and the nation was transfixed by the tears of a clown.     We’ll soon experience this years rollercoaster.  In 2030 will we remember tears of joy? 

So far it’s been a traumatic tournament for England.   Rumours of mutiny and boredom following the bafflingly incompetent showing against Algeria led to some vicious condemnation.    Fortunately a football match broke out on Wednesday and we put aside the distractions and won in (relative) comfort.   That’s all in the past now.  When knockout stages start it’s like  a new  tournament.   It’d be fantastic if  Wayne could ‘Write the Future’.   Imagine in twenty years looking back on the night we beat Germany!!   To make the difference on a stage like this is to become immortal.   No reason to feel afraid.  There will only be a billion people watching.   The time is now.  I can’t believe I wrote this paragraph and didn’t use the words ‘Penalty shootout’.  AAAARRRGH dam!!  

Both knockout games so far have been excellent.  Both filled with spritely attacking football and teams going all out for the wins as opposed to waiting to take a chance on penalties.    It was thrilling to watch the USA play their way back into their game against Ghana and exciting to see Ghana’s resilience in getting back in front.  Both sides were a credit to the game.   It’s becoming a great tournament now.   Let’s hope it continues. 

Much of what can be achieved is down to attitude and approach.   Brazil and Portugal were both qualified for the second round but even bearing that in mind their boring violent dirge on Friday was vile.   Is that the best they could conjure up?  Two sides filled with talent and excitement yet they just spent all game barging into each other and arguing like a load of little kids.  Spain have clicked into gear though.    Iniesta’s goal against Chile had the swagger and execution Barcelona have shown for the last two years.  Villa took his chance well but you can’t help wondering why the keeper dashed out.   If Spain continue to improve the only future Christiano will be  writing next week will be on postcards from his holiday home in the Bahamas.  Wouldn’t that be a shame!!


Stokeless in South Africa

June 25th, 2010 No comments

Who could have predicted that?   In the build up questions were asked about the age of the Italian squad.  Lippi responded by pointing out that in a World cup you  only need to win seven games.  The world champions  tepid exit will come as a huge shock.  Expectations were low but failing to get out of the group is a disaster.   Surely the inclusion of Cassano and Balotelli would have brought some much needed energy.   The outcome of the group was particularly suprising  because Slovakia had been uninspiring and dull in the first two games.   Without wishing to demean Slovakia’s victory it was more about Italian lethargy than any silky Slovakian skills.  They got through but Holland don’t have too much to worry about.  And remember, my predictions are usually 100% wrong!!   New Zealand didn’t quite have the craft to open the Paraguay defence but they can be proud of the achievements.  To go out unbeaten is impressive.  In years to come the Kiwis will look back on this as a special time in their lives. 

For Japan’s first goal Tommy took a slight move  to the left as it was being struck and that wrong footed him.  That was the beginning of the end of Stoke City’s representation in the tournament.   The TV companies will be hoping that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the viewing figures.   Across the globe millions will now turn away from the World Cup.   Would Adidas and Macdonalds been so keen to invest so many millions in sponsorship if they had known it’d be Stokeless from the second round onwards?   Surely not.  Blatter will have some explaining to do.  To make it worthwhile the TV cameras will be scanning crowds for Stoke fans in Stoke shirts just to satisfy the hunger of sponsors and get some Stokeness in.   Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Another big question that’s been thrown up is about Maradona.   Is he becoming normal?   Admittedly, he did say Pele should go back to the museum, but in other areas he’s been saying things other, more sane, less unhinged  managers say.   He’s even said that Brazil were favourites.   In itself, this wasn’t a particularly controversial observation but  it was a rare moment of chivalry towards the deadly rivals.   Hopefully the pressure of the knockout stage will bring around a bit more madness from him. 

So we now have one eye on the game against Germany.   One difference between this and the other three games is that we won’t be favourites.  Given the fragile metal state of  our players will that work in our favour?    A bit less pressure maybe?   Looking back to the 1990 semi David Platt observed that deep down inside, in their heart of hearts, the England players didn’t believe they could win that game.   Will we dogged by those doubts on Sunday?   It’s in the head.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Slovenia

June 24th, 2010 No comments

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.

Defoe scores for England

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

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.

England lose to Germany on penalties

Let's try not to take on the Germans at their own game, let's just beat them in ordinary time instead.

A win at last!

June 24th, 2010 No comments

That was better.  We played with a bit more purpose and opened Slovenia up now and then.   Defoe put some much needed mobility in to the forward line and he took his chance well.   Fantastic cross by Milner too which was a pleasant surprise.  Rooney was more involved and  should have scored Rooney the chance that the keeper saved but he was looking a bit better.   If he scores one he’ll score another.   The defence hasn’t had the credit it deserves.  Upson and Terry were rock solid.  Apart from THAT moment fron Green we’ve rarely looked like conceding. 

The last five minutes were annoyingly tense because we should have scored another one (or two) to finish them off.   When the final whistle finally blew and celebrations commenced I looked around the pub and noticed the Americans watching their game against Algeria suddenly go barmy.   At first it seemed they were just acting a bit weird then it dawned on me they were going barmy because of the late winner.  Afterwards speaking to some of them it dawned on me they had watched and some of them hadn’t really understood what was happening.   Talk of a “Late score” and “Desperate interceptions” is unusual football terminology! 

Of course, that late USA goal means it’s Germany next.   There’s no reason to fear anyone but it’s common sense that Germany avoidance was preferable.  We may pay a heavy price for our slackness in the first two games.   The dreaded penalties loom large in our collective mind.   I fear our journey will end on Sunday.  We usually get knocked out when we face a side with genuine aspirations to win the trophy.  1990 was fantastic but, with all respect Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to win the trophy.  I’d love to be wrong. 

Team USA – SOP, We Win and we are in!

June 23rd, 2010 No comments

Well the Slovenia game has come and gone. Myself along with the rest of the USA ran the whole gamut of emotions during that contest. As per our Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) we fell behind a goal early, wasted numerous scoring chances, and then paid for our anemia in front of goal by getting caught out on the break. At the half down 2-0 many of the pundits and oatcakers believed our World Cup to be over – done and dusted. However, as per our SOP , we mounted a furious comeback, tied the game on two beautiful goals; one by the talismanic Landon Donovan and the equalizer by the coach’s son Michael Bradley. I was over the moon at this point to just be staring at an unlikely point from this contest when a tropical storm cut off the TV. Of course this was between the 84th and 87th minutes so I missed the highway robbery that occured. Luckily for me it has been replayed a million times since .. Needless to say that goes down as the worst call in the history of US soccer. (Had the referee been trained by Alan Wiley?) But no more time to cry over spilled milk. The scoreless draw between England and Algeria was just what the doctor ordered to give us a chance of moving on.

As for the next game, we win and we are in! Algeria will be tough, but they also have to play for a win if they hope to advance. If we can get the first goal I like our chances. We do not deserve to advance if we cannot win a game in the group. I’ll be pulling for an England win but they have a difficult tie against a well organized opponent. More to follow tomorrow …

There’s only one way to make things right – (Arthur Scargill or Mullard?)

June 23rd, 2010 No comments

It’s Wednesday now.  Following a hair raising few days for the England team, in a few hours our fate will be determined.  Will we go through or suffer the indignity of a group stage exit? 

The fallout after the Algeria fiasco has been as fragmented as the ‘performance’ itself was.  Immediately after the game David James indicated all was not well in  the camp.  A few days later John Terry, in full glare of the worlds media, implies he’s going to be an Arthur Scargill and confront the boss, but ended up looking more like Arthur Mullard as his colleagues seemed to be indifferent to or dismissive of his threatened revolt, and when FabCap referred to Terry making a “Big mistake” Poor old John Terry looked isolated and, to be honest, a bit silly, leavng us to ponder if he carries  bitterness towards his manager after being stripped of the captaincy.  Frank Lampard was charming diplomatic and articulate when he put the whole saga to bed.  For now the game is more important than anything and a win will put much of this on the back burner but in coming months expect some explosive chapters in otherwise dull updated autobiographies.   

Although the England camp is like the Brady Bunch compared to the French.  Anelka’s vicious outburst at the coach led to him being sent home.  Domenech changed his mind told him that he’d accept an apology which the French FA overruled that and instructed him to leave.  That resulted in the hopeless Domench being at odds with his employers, and the team director (whatever that is) saw a nasty abusive outburst from patrice Evra so resigned and in the middle of all this (or maybe at the end, it doesn’t really matter)  the players refused to train!!  Brilliant stuff!!  These shenanigens are the world witnessing the end of an era.  Since the glory of 98 and 2000 France have played in fits and starts.  In 2006 Zidane single handedly dragged them to the final where, in all fairness, had Zizou not had his headbutt moment, they may well have won another World Cup.   But Henry single handedly (see what I did there?  Good eh?) got them to South Africa and it may have been more beneficial if he hadn’t bothered.  Domenech has looked as effective as Peter Sellers’ hapless union official in I’m All Right Jack and his players haven’t looked willing to protect his legacy.  Not in a positive way anyway.   Time to create a fresh dynasty.  2016 they host the Euros.  Get your money on them.

 The next time I post here we’ll know if we’ve made it through.  Remember, at World Cups when England have gone to the final group match, we usually get what’s required to go through.   BUT also remember, this is the first time the host nation hasn’t got past the group stage so those chains are there to be broken.   Hopefully we are all happy on Thursday morning.   There’s only one way our players can put things right, and we all know what that is. 

COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PS good luck to Australia .  It’s unlikely but you never know.

To drink or not to drink??

June 21st, 2010 No comments

I watched our  2006 quarter final against Portugal  in the pub.  KO was 1am.  It was well and truly a night of two halves.  The first segment was the pre match part.  Much ale was consumed and Vindaloo And Three Lions were sung and much frivolity abounded.  The second part was from kick off onwards.  Where earlier people had danced jigs, waved flags and scarves, and paraded their jolly demeanour to all and sundry, the mood changed completely.  Joyous excitement was replaced by  unreal calm and anxious scowls at our teams inability to impose themselves on the game.  As extra time drifted towards it’s inevitable conclusion, which meant no immediate conclusion, Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows came into my mind.  You can be sure that when he wrote his darkly brilliant anthem for bitter twisted betrayed lovers, World Cup quarter finals were the last thing on Len’s mind!  But with another penalty shoot exit impending, the languid sinister mood of his tortured whispers accurately described the esssence of our slow sad shufffle across football’s bridge of sighs.

The shootout having reached it’s inevitable conclusion, the majority of the pub crowd quietly drifiting off into the night. My mate JD said exactly the precise words that were in my mind.  “We are never going to win it in our lifetime”  An accurate observation.  Those moments were as sickening and horrible as any  football moment I’ve ever had the misfortune to feel. Feeling as bitter as Len sounded, I drank three pints in about ten minutes.  JD and I sat mumbling to ourselves and each other, bathing in the aftermath of the delicious nightmare.  The scale of my misery wasn’t eased by the fact that, like now, I never expected to win the tournament.  At that point a Frenchman came to talk to us who was, well, too French.  He was so French we felt that he wasn’t French at all and was caricaturing a Frenchman for a laugh.  He was good looking stylish and had all the mannerisms of the French stereotype.  He was waiting for their game against Brazil and had come over to commiserate with us.  A really top bloke but it was hard to talk with him because of our depression and the scale of the Frenchness was hard to get past. A quirky end to a horrible night (and early morning) of stomach churning inevitable loss. 

SO to 2010.  I am yet to go the pub for an England game in this competition.  If we get knocked out could I feel as bad as I felt last time?  OR if we get knocked out would it help if I was surrounded by other depressed souls?  OR as this could be the last chance to get out and experience it should I just go?  OR, we might win and….no, that’s a ridiculous prospect.  What should I do?  To drink or not to drink?  That is the question.