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Sunday, October 09, 2005

England receive "Het winst van hulp" for qualification

After Windsor Park's debacle, which showed a dispiriting right to claim a position for Germany 2006, England once again seeked to answer their critics, and perhaps themselves. Losing to a Danish side you expect to beat was one thing, the Danes were not 116th in the FIFA rankings. Players criticised, tactics criticised, formation criticised, positioning criticised, coach criticised, so yesterday's match was quite significant.

Thought the first threat went to Austria when Markus Kiesenebner hit a crisp shot palmed 'up, up and away' by Supergoalie Paul Robinson, England settled into a better pass-and-move game around Austria's defensive area. Individual performances were much better and the defence felt stronger with two stalwarts in John Terry and Sol Campbell, with Luke Young increasingly pleasing his addition and Jamie Carragher covering at left-back. Michael Owen's penalty claim was justified, bizarre how Paul Scharner held onto Owen at such a risk. Frank Lampard duly took over from David Beckham to the glee of the nation. The cheers must go further to Peter Crouch, who also justified his selection with some passing and head-ons, Young and Owen could have increased our lead and Crouch himself possibly scoring with a header that went straight to Jurgen Macho. Owen clearly should have had a second penalty when Andreas Dober blatantly obstructed the Newcastle man but ref Luis Cantalejo, the zealous ref who sent off Patrick Vieira in Juventus's CL match against Club Brugge, bizarrely waved claims aside.

The first half had been slightly uneventful other than the penalty claims and the goal, but in reaction the second half was uninspiring. Austria came out to press on us and we yet again allowed them to, Roland Linz almost capitalising on a Terry mis-head to bounce a lob off the crossbar. Then David Beckham jumped with a flailing arm onto Andreas Ibertsberger and was booked, which ruled him out of Wednesday's game, then he made contact with the same player moments later, which I assume the ref saw as a deliberate act and issued a second booking.

We were scraping along with 11, so with 10 the enthusiasm went further down. Ledley King has played in central midfield before why Sven Goran Eriksson swapped him immediately for Joe Cole, and held the holding position behind Lampard and Steven Gerrard. He then swapped with Campbell as the Arsenal man pulled on a hamstring, later to come off for Rio Ferdinand. Eriksson then swapped Owen for Kieran Richardson and set the defensive formation.

So with that (and I didn't think we would concede, even with 10 men), we held out to the end. Wednesday's game would have needed a win to cement qualification but then later on in the evening we had the 'het winst van hulp' from the Dutch. With the ruling that teams in the groups of 7 will not prosper from games with the bottom team, to ensure fairness to those in groups of six teams, that meant Czech Republic needed to win to heighten their claim for Germany. They almost got ahead with a penalty but Edwin Van der Sar saved well from Tomas Rosicky, and the Dutch took the game with goals from Rafael Van der Vaart and Barry Opdem.

At the moment, while I'm content that we have done what we should have done some time ago, that is qualify, we did so with a little help from elsewhere when we have the talent and potential to have wrapped it up earlier.

The critics wasted no time. Alan Shearer said "Right from the start there was an opportunity to really get at Austria and get some goals and make a point. But in the 65 minutes England had with 11 men they did not really do that. And they never looked like doing it either."

Alan Hansen: "At times it was a bit like a schoolboy game, with everybody chasing the ball and there was no shape....They can't go to Germany and play anything like that and expect to win the World Cup. In the last 10 minutes England were hanging on against a team that had really shown nothing up until then. Peter Crouch is 6 feet 7 inches tall and there would be something wrong if he wasn't good in the air, but for me he isn't mobile enough for international level."

I agree that Crouch isn't mobile enough but mobility has little to do with his game, or with the aim of those who play him. He did well in a home debut but Wayne Rooney and Owen will always start. One fan after the game said, while being interviewed on the spot by Sky Sports, that Crouch was 6ft 5in and didn't win a header all game!

A holding role is relevant in discussions of a five-men midfield, and I have said previously about a 4-4-2 with a defender dropping down to sweep behind the midfield to make an ad hoc 3-5-2, something I think Ferdinand would be comfortable to do, for he likes to get forward on occasion. My EFT colleague T suggested that a 3-5-2 could become a cropper against good wingers, but my visualisation of 3-5-2 would have Beckham and J Cole on the wings, Lampard between them, Gerrard positioned diagonal to Lampard behind the forwards. If our wingers lose possession, Gerrard could have a loose rein from left to right to help. But such discussions may seem academic, for Eriksson favours to use four across the back.

Between now and Germany I don't suppose there is much that Eriksson can do to align the features that seem to dog the performances of late. I think it is a time for other players to be given a chance, not a fleeting glance but a good duration. Darren Bent seems eager to score, more so than Crouch and Owen accordng to Danny Murphy, who may now have talked himself out of selection. I still feel Jermaine Defoe can help add flair to the team and we have still to find a left-sided midfielder, with one option in Stuart Downing currently injured and another in Gareth Barry questionable. The question is do we really want to win the World Cup, or do we feel content enough to be participants?



Blogger SKG said...

england can count themselves very lucky that the game against poland is now meaningless. having played extremely badly in their last 4 games and with injuries to key players, next wednesday's game would have been, in my opinion, a test too far.

instead england go into it with the luxury of knowing they have already qualified - sod's law they'll probably beat poland easily now.

in my opinion there is just one problem that sven has got to solve - his players must press the play. if they do this then they will automatically find themselves playing higher up the pitch, which will result in the team playing at a higher tempo. at a higher tempo england could be ruthless.

maybe sven's men deliberately play deep because they want to conserve their energy or whatever - fact is that we will not do well in the world cup if we don't press the opposition. it's as simple as that.

10/09/2005 5:51 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

That is one way to describe what England need to do to attack. Coming forward is part of the course, passing is another but using fast movement, skill and good vision to effectively score is not England's flair. Defending well can be done with the worse of teams but attacking effectively needs finishing, and we are freshly out of those. Owen guaranteed goals for Newcastle, why not England?


10/09/2005 6:45 pm

Blogger T said...

Thanks Redsman. Am I the only one who is thoroughly bored watching England? Crouch may be effective as the 'route one' man, but his incusion sums up England under Sven- we have gone from moving towards 'total football' (Venables and Hoddle), to '80's Wimbledon football'.

I get more joy watching other international teams- Hleb and his Belarus team were brilliant to watch with their inventive football against the Scots.

And I am particluarly glad that Kolo and Drogba's Ivory Coast has made it through. Their loss last month in a brilliant end-to-end match at home to Cameroon made Eto's team favourites to qualify. But Cameroon could only draw at home to Egypt yesterday- with Pierre Wome striking the post with a 95th minute penalty (painful!).

10/09/2005 7:04 pm

Blogger T said...

To add, I would try Etherington down the left. If Crouch can start- then the West Ham left winger is worth a go too.

10/09/2005 7:16 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Which adds a different dimension to the squad - play Crouch and aim to send crosses for knockdowns or go for strength and pace with Rooney and Owen. The guarantee is that Rooney and Owen will score, provided we provide them the opportunites. Rooney may have his tempestuous moments but if the young man is positioned where he is most effective to play his own game, and we build around himself and Owen, we can do better. Both of the strikers are goal hungry, why on earth are we not feeding them more often?

And I would still add Defoe, he has shown he will strike from any angle, from any distance and has, more or less, been effective.

Etherington is a good candidate but playing for West Ham means he gets less of a look-in, despite their rise in the table and form since the beginning. It's as if you must progress through the ranks before joining the seniors. Personally, I see England have little option.


10/09/2005 9:08 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

With Sol Campbell, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham missing, all that is needed is Frank Lampard and Michael Owen to go injured or ill and wrap up a ill-fated preparation for Wednesday. Is it a sign when this happens with automatic qualification? Because had the Czechs won yesterday, it would have made Wednesday's game more difficult, to say the least.


10/09/2005 9:15 pm


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