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Sunday, July 02, 2006

WC2006: End of the road for England

In the World Cup of 1990, in Italy, we faced the Germans in the semi-final where it finished level at 1-1, only to lose as Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their penalty kicks. During the European Championships on home soil, we defeated the Spaniards 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw to go into the quarter-finals and face Germany, where it finished level at 1-1 and we lost 5-6 on penalties, Gareth Southgate missing his penalty kick. In the World Cup of 1998 in France, England were in the 2nd round against Argentina, where the game finished 2-2 and again went into penalties, where Paul Ince missed that made scores level but David Batty's miss at the end won the game for Argentina. In the 2004 European championships, we faced Portugal, where the tie ended emphatically 2-2. David Beckham slipped and missed his spot kick, Portugal keeper Ricardo Pereira was a hero in Lisbon by saving Darius Vassell's penalty then scoring the remaining one himself.

So we faced Portugal again in the quarter-finals of the World Cup of 2006. Christian Ronaldo was fit enough to play, and as I predicted Portugal had the 4-2-3-1 line up of players. England were 4-5-1 and endured yet again Wayne Rooney alone, isolated, chasing lost causes, overhit passes, long balls 40-50 yards away, surrounded like an island by Portuguese defenders who, like Ricardo Carvalho, were very good in stifling Rooney of space to turn or run. Owen Hargreaves played the holding role and played very well, on occasion he stopped Luis Figo and Ronaldo from going further, but it looked as if he was the only central figure in midfield. David Beckham appeared initially in the first half then disappeared, Frank Lampard hardy moved around, hardly a tackle from him, Steven Gerrard tried to mobilise himself often but found it difficult to find players in space, passes were overhit. Joe Cole tried to make openings down the left to no avail. At times we made moves towards Portugal's goal only to lack that pass, that shot, that 'killer instinct' in front of goal.

I can remember a freekick for Portugal from Figo was not dealt with, came off Gary Neville and bounced comfortably to Paul Robinson with Cardoso Tiago looming. Again we were vulnerable from a set-piece, no one dealt with the ball aerially. Ronaldo then Figo were allowed to come in from the left and take shots at the goal, dangerous defending. We broke forward and looked promising, only for it to end poorly. Beckham had not played well, a poor freekick and a poor corner, and he then took a knock in the second half and had to come off for Aaron Lennon. Beckham wept in the dug-out while his foot was treated, and that was a telling sign that things were not going right for us.

Rooney was closed down on the ball by Carvalho and Armando Petit. Despite the two challenges which connected with his leg than the ball, Rooney stayed up and battled for the ball, Carvalho at one point pulling Rooney's shirt. Rooney still stayed up and in frustration he stomped his left foot near Carvalho's groin area and the Chelsea defender winced. The referee was right on the spot to witness it all and blew for a freekick, and then Portuguese players came over to remonstrate. Ronaldo did so and clearly made words to indicate action should be taken against Rooney, for Rooney to react with a little shove on Ronaldo. The referee, Argentinian Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (don't groan), blew to calm order and pulled Rooney to the side to issue a red card. Now, this could not be given for the little shove, that would be a scandal.

I surmise that the referee did not take immediate action while monitoring Carvalho's injury but then decided to do so once it became clear friction would ensue from Rooney's shove. Nonetheless, I had to see from the replay the stomp because I wasn't convinced of any offence, and even then the referee should have blown for an England free-kick much earlier when Rooney was tapped twice on the leg while battling for the ball. Had those two contacts been on Ronaldo or Figo or any other Portugal player, that player would have gone down immediately, gaining a freekick.

Peter Crouch came on for Joe Cole, when it should have been Lampard coming off. Twenty four minutes of backs to the wall stuff as Portugal huffed and puffed, tried to shot without success, without accuracy. They then played the ball around the penalty box, looking for an opening, almost breaching the defence on two occasions but England held out. We were valiant as Portugal continued to probe, Hargreaves, Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Neville, Cole had to put in that extra percentage of energy as John Terry and Rio Ferdinand kept stalwart in defence. Robinson made two saves to keep the Portuguese out, and when the ball was cleared Crouch was there more times than not to hold up the ball and lay it off. We came agonisingly close to snatching victory but lacked that edge to shoot well on target.

But we kept out Portugal until the end of 120mins. It came down to penalties, once again, in the quarter-finals. Simao Sabrosa stepped up and scored well, Frank Lampard stepped up and Ricardo saved well. Hugo Viana stepped up and missed, Hargreaves stepped up and Ricardo almost saved it but it went in. Petit stepped up and missed, Gerrard stepped up and Ricardo saved. Helder Postiga stepped up and scored, Jamie Carragher stepped up and scored but had to re-take it as the referee had not blown. Carragher stepped up again and Ricardo saved. Ronaldo stepped up, he who had appealed to the referee for action against Rooney, he who was caught on camera pinching then nudging Rooney with his head from behind before the initial kick-off as Rooney talked with Pedro Pauleta. If he scored, England were out. He did.

I could not believe it, so promising albeit misfiring, is-performing yet we knew how they can play, we hoped they would give a big performance when it mattered, when it counted. They did in those 54mins after Rooney was sent off while we also wanted it with ten outfield men and in the Portugal half. We should have won because we battled to keep out a tricky, skilful, pacy side and it is difficult to pick apart a team with one man less. The Argentinians felt this eight years ago, we did it again yesterday. But I feel playing with ten men took its toll and the energy sapped from us, particularly Gerrard who at one point came out on attack but the ball was won back by Portugal, Gerrard walking back rather than sprinting to aid our defence.

The sending-off was a major body blow, the uppercut that catches well on the ribs and knocks some air out of you. England rallied and kept defence under the pain, blocking blow after blow to make it to the final bell. Had it been anyone else, it is questionable the potential of the damage caused, we would have taken one from midfield to replace and still have an option upfront in Rooney. But it was Rooney, our only attacking option. It is arguable we should have played with Crouch and Rooney together from the start and let Lampard and Gerrard sort out who goes and who stays. We should have taken the game in the first half and then with that cushion hit Portugal on the counter, difficult but effective and achievable with our players. But the curse of those penalties has occurred again. There is a new direction needed to make England that much of a better, more lethal side and I am not sure that even Steve McClaren can produce it.



Blogger SKG said...

England haven't played well throughout the tournament. In fact they only showed the passion, spirit and fighting qualities fans have been crying out for when down to 10 men yesterday.

England deserved to win the game but were cheated due to the combination of an Argentine referee and the Portugese players.

The blame however doesn't soley rest with them. The so called big players just didn't perform. Lampard and Gerrard didn't play well despite Gerrard scoring 2 goals in the tournament, and for the both of them to miss their penalties was just a joke.

The only bright things to come out of this tournament were Lennon, Hargreaves and Carrick. Joe Cole was yet again unpredictable.

Sven, quite rightly, should get the blame for the poor performances. Whether it was the formation, the personnel or the tactics, Sven got it all wrong.

At the time of writing, Beckham has stood down as captain. England now need a new direction, new focus and some new life into the team. I just hope Steve McLaren will learn from Sven's mistakes.

7/02/2006 12:27 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Every one was devastated, for me the very same players who toiled the most were those in tears, Hargreaves, Terry and Ferdinand. Beckham was not right in the first half and went off in the second, and we know now why he was in tears because he realised he could not keep with the pressure of delivering the best. It is right he should step down and allow someone else who will get up players once they lack on the pitch. We want a Roy Keane out there because England have been going soft throughout the tournament and the talk that they had not been playing well at all did not make any influence on the players. Simply, it's to do or die out there and we chose to die. Once we can create, we should score or why aren't we? It's not good enough, considering the calibre of players we have.

Who should be captain? Is it a worthy question? Owen will probably take over but I dont think he should get it. Neville is too old, and Gerrard has yet to fulfill potential in an England shirt on a regular basis. But I think Gerrard can develop into the Roy Keane we need to get at players when we need it. When our playability is not producing, we need someone to install some sharpness into our game. I would thin we will look for a right-back soon, and bring in Lennon more often.

I hope McClaren can use his Middlesbrough skills and recognise good potential and not be afraid to bring it in, because there are some first teamers who need a wake up call. Big time.


7/02/2006 2:21 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Bad luck England. Events again conspired against the team...but I felt that TACTICS should have played a bigger part.

Sven really should NOT have played for penalties after Rooney was sent off. It was also obvious that 4-5-1 did not suit the midfield players who aimlessly ran around the middle of the park...except for the excellent seemed to me that he played FORWARD MORE than Gerrard or Lampard! Crazy! Our two best attacking players...tired and unfit at the end of extra really told when Hargreaves turned up to support Crouch...and NOBODY else!

Of course, the difficulty was to take of such seasoned penalty takers...but realistically...putting Walcott on would have been fair...and probably taking Lampard off. I was all compounded by Beckham going off injured of course.

Then again...prior to that...putting Crouch on for Joe Cole??!?!?!!?!? Very very tactically chicken. Lampard was clearly not on form...

Well...another 4 years to wait England...just unlucky that you had Sven in charge during a period when a lot of the senior players are at their peak. Maybe by that time Walcott will be taken to the WC as a starter and not a joke...

7/02/2006 3:10 pm

Blogger EL said...

I honestly felt completely indifferent when England went out of the cup. They'd played in such a lacklustre manner in every game that I couldn't help thinking that had the first three matches been against tougher opponents we would not have made the group stages. Luck of the draw got us to the quarter finals. Sven is and always has been a rubbish England manager and an obscenely overpaid one at that. McClaren inspires me not one jot but we'll have to see. Personaly I'd have dropped Lampard after the group stages for the rest of the tournament. Crouch is not international class. Taking Walcott was the single most stupid thing Sven and possibly any England manager has ever done. Even after they'd played several games and were awful in all of them and Sven was still messing with the formation to an astonishing degree, the players kept saying how good and confident they felt?! Why? I'm sure I'd have been bloody panicking. Despite all the talk of a great squad We are still lacking a top drawer left footed left winger and a Gascoine-esque creative midfielder. I can't forget this world cup quick enough.

Anyway, good article Redsman. Here's to a great and competitive next season and McClaren surprising us all in two years time.


7/03/2006 11:33 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Thanks chaps. As the aftermath continues during the various news outlets, it still sucks. Amazing how a squad of talented skilful players can waste such an opportunity to shine globally. And let's get one thing crystal clear, we did not go out because Ronaldo spoke out to the ref about Rooney, we were hampered because Rooney became the proverbial Jekyll and Hyde, why must he stamp like that? He was still up and had the ball but that frustration boiled over from being lumped upfront on his own. Crouch being international class is questionable but I think he has done his chances better than harm and I expect the likes of Defoe, Harewood, Bent, Walcott perhaps will add more competition for the striking roles.

Even with Rooney off, we held out and it was down to the penalties. How in heaven could we see Viana miss, Hargreaves score then Petit miss and still produce poor penalties? I understand from Crouch that Ashley Cole and Terry practiced penalties, and it is not so much we missed them but how. So if we play like we did for 66mins and then produce poor penalties we should get use to getting only so far.

You're right, el, Lord knows what McClaren will be like. But unless the captain is a Roy Keane type, unless McClaren is not interested in old boys' clubs and will tell ANYONE they are good enough at the moment and then bring in someone who is, then we will continue to fail to deliver. The Brazil team were heckled along their way tot heir bus to the airport, they played lamely themselves.

One testing thing is to pick a decent second England XI and that should show who could replace who in the first XI. Beckham was the most suitable player six years ago to be captain as others took their bow to leave. Between now and then he was granted audience because he was an icon, otherwise he was a mere member of the squad more than he was an inspirational captain. It was right to pass on the armband.

We either don't care and continue as we are, or we do and get down to brass tactics and make fundamental changes.


7/03/2006 3:12 pm

Blogger T said...

Hear, hear to all the comments to Redsman's article.

SKG- I agree with your every sentence.

Nturtle- I said at the time that the out-of-form Lampard should have gone off instead of Joe Cole…. a decision which makes even less sense as it meant that Gerrard was pushed out onto the left!

EL- I agree that England badly miss a creative midfielder in the mould of a Gascoigne who can run past players with sublime control, balance and eye for a through pass.

And Redsman I ditto everything you say, in particular the point you make about Ronaldo not being the reason why England went out. Having just arrived back in the country this morning I was dismayed to hear on the radio phone-ins that some lamentable broadcasters were presenting this line of argument…. and even more dismayed that so many England fans who called in to have their say seemed prepared to buy it!

Can't they see that the reason for our exit is that we simply are not good enough. Watching the France/Brazil match straight after the England match showed how far behind England are: I was struck by the sheer contrast in the level of technique, speed, and teamwork of the passing moves in the later match. It showed that England have a long way to go to reach a level were they can consider themselves as worthy elect world champions.

For me, what sums up this England side is that Frank Lampard holds the lead for the most shots in this tournament. In the five games England played I lost count of the number of times he went for a speculative outside-the-box-shot when a through pass to a player moving into or around the box was the higher-percentage option for scoring a goal. When he failed to slip a five yard pass into the penalty box for Rooney to run onto in the first half against Portugal and instead went for another long range effort that did not go in I thought: when will he learn!

I say this sums up this England side because on the biggest footballing stage they seemingly seemed incapable of understanding a really basic concept: to play pass and move football as a collective unit. They struggled to put together any good attacking passing moves throughout the tournament despite having talented individuals on the pitch. Instead they seemed content to rely on trying to score through set-pieces or through trying low percentage shots from long range.

Sure if a long-range effort goes in like Joe Cole's agaist Sweden its great to see. But for me it's not a recipe for consistent winning- especially against the top teams.

Although there are many negatives to come out of this tournament for England I do want to highlight three positives:

Owen Hargreaves stepped up magnificently against Portugal when his more illustrious midfield colleagues failed to impress yet again. Personally I have really disliked the criticism of him by the BBC panel led by Alan Hansen (the same Hansen who sold-out earlier this season when being the voiceover for an advert calling Frank Lampard a '£40m footballing genius'!) in the build up to the tournament: I thought it was unfair, ignorant and over the top. They never seemed to grasp that as a fixture of the German league champions he could actually be a good footballer... and I'd like the whole BBC panel to note that it was his technique alone that held up to the high pressure of the penalty shoot-out.

Second, Beckham is no longer the England captain so hopefully this will mean that he does not now have an automatic starting place in the England team. He was anonymous against Portugal... which has been a recurring feature of his performances for England in recent years. England need someone on the right hand side who can make more of a contribution to the team than being able to cross a ball from deep or on set-pieces.

Finally, there is no more Sven: a manager who consistently failed to give the impression to me that he had what it took to lead a championship winning team. I may be in a minority, but I have belief in McClaren as being a determined individual who will look to make a difference. There is a lot of work for him to do in creating a team that plays as a team instead of an assortment of individuals. But it can be done.

7/03/2006 8:41 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Welcome back, T. and I in turn ditto your comments. Mr Eriksson has been a fat-cat as the England squad have moved no further from where they were when he took over. The likes of Keegan, Venables, even Hoddle could have achieved as much on less salary, at the back of it all SGE was content to pick up a prosperous wage for little, while his 'lady-in-waiting' lapped up the glamour why she still stays with him despite.

The WAGs should not have gone, and it was said the WAGs of the Portuguese players hissed as the English WAGs departed. I imagine with the dissenting voices of Nancy and Victoria Beckham, SGE isn't authoritative enough to make such decisions, Sir Alex certainly took no stick from Victoria. It's not the same with the other camps and disrupts the team's focus for the matches.

I also wonder if Beckham relinquished the armband because he felt McClaren would question it where Eriksson would not. Additionally, or alternatively, he could be relinquishing it because the demands of a captain placed pressure on Beckham and family, the novelty of which bacame all too much during the World Cup. This is what made Beckham less inspirational and more susceptible. He was granted hero status because of his Ecuador goal, but that was because we did not look likely of scoring any other way, as T said.

It is rather sad than euphoric that we turn to Beckham for set-pieces for goals. No, Beckham has been better for England with crosses, but when was the last time he played a pass on the ground through to another player? Why was he bought by Real? His freekicks, crosses and celebrity status. Why was Beckham always selected? For very much the same thing. Look how close Nancy and Victoria are, how could Eriksson drop Beckham, the captain and celebrity name up and down the world, if he felt he was not playing well enough?

Look how SGE sold out his personal conversations with various squad members to the 'fake sheikh'? He exposed that confidence at a heartbeat to merely impress someone for a lucrative contract. The very man assigned to have the best interests of his players foremost in his mind for matches. The Swedes consider we have been done like a kipper, and with SGE saying 'sorry' so often, it contradicts the famous Elton John track.

The jury is out on McClaren but the opportunity to insert new life and spark into our squad is now. I hope he can see the sense and discretion to take it.


7/04/2006 9:16 am


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