Israel v England - a bore draw
Funnily enough Steve McClaren made the exact changes I would have except for Micah Richards on for Phil Neville, whereas I would have opted for either of Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard coming off for Kieron Dyer to inject more pace and urgency in attack. Certainly Aaron Lennon has played for Spurs on the left and for good reason too but he is within a known set structure different entirely to the England set up. Lennon looked quite uncomfortable yesterday and seemed restricted in forming anything enterprising once the Israelis began to double their marking. They picked up that his left foot was his weakest and forced him mostly to turn onto his right foot and shephered him away from the flanks to come inside and then end up passing the ball back.
Gerrard hardly made runs down the right and therefore did not deliver many crosses, opting instead to hold back and allow for Neville to go down the wing. Otherwise Gerrard gave a hint as to how he wanted to flow, coming inside and doing more of a midfield contribution than as a winger. Lampard made two telling chances on goal, where he should have made more of the first one after being played in by Gerrard. The second was a acrobatic half volley that almost made a second chance for Wayne Rooney. The defence were troubled on occasion, notably Pini Balili turned on the ball and wide enough to not trouble Paul Robinson. Yet the telling player was Israel's Tal Ben Haim, who made himself something of a wall between our attack and the Israeli goal. Rooney had little trouble with him at Old Trafford recently yet he, Andy Johnson and anyone else approaching goal were hindered by the Bolton defender. Rooney only actually came into the game more after he and Ben Haim had a little set-to from which both were booked.
But in all it was a bore draw from an England perspective and for the record defender Arik Benado should have been booked again for deliberately blocking off Lennon but for some reason the Norweigan referee took no action other than award a freekick. Ben Haim also blocked off Johnson in identical fashion and again the referee took no action. We have these top players from the Premiership who go out on a limb almost every week yet internationally we are struggling to score, much less win, and that is not right at all. We had the pace of both Rooney and Johnson to inflict problems on Israel, that of Gerrard and Lennon and Lampard's ingenuity and yet we were boring in attack. Pace wasn't enough, therefore, and so creativity is another factor to be considered and in that the likes of Jermaine Defoe, Kieron Dyer and Stewart Downing are the ones for me who would have given that. Downing has been in sharper form domestically and we needed him on the left where Lennon was being squeezed out, and Defoe has a reputation, not of late I must add, of squeezing a shot from almost anywhere on goal.
The issue that crops up is the selection of both Lampard and Gerrard, both central attacking midfielders. In doing so means there is no one covering once under a counter-attack in central midfield, so we adopt a holding midfielder in Owen Hargreaves but yesterday on occasion when Israel did break the centre was found wanting in an England shirt. I would have looked on taking off either Lampard for Dyer and move Gerrard into the middle, or a straight swap of Gerrard for Dyer. If we are to have both Lampard and Gerrard together, then we either allow both to go forward and take the risk of leaving the middle exposed, or we have Rio Ferdinand dropping down as an ad-hoc holding player once the central midfielders go up.
On the horizon are the likes of Gareth Barry, Darren Bent (unfit), Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and the likelihood, as a result of seeking success, is English players are having to go on loan to Championship teams to get noticed. The thing is we have to take risks now and perhaps it is evading doing so that is our main Achilles heel. Before the choice of Peter Crouch upfront was interesting, intriguing, and yet now Rooney and Johnson are available, I failed to see how innovative they both were yesterday. It is a hard decision but a set of players can be chosen on reputation and gain nothing, alternatively little known players or players of less stature internationally could come in and do an excellent job.
Right now, the urgency is rising with the wins of Croatia and Russia yesterday. Croatia were one down before half time yet came back with a superb freekick from Shaktar Donetsk's Darijo Srna that went straight in from a tight angle. Croatia contended with ten men to gain a winner before time while Russia made a tidy job against Estonia. Five points ahead means at the least England must win all from now, particularly when we next meet Croatia and Russia, to claw back the deficit. But I could not understand was we had the need for three points yesterday and nothing less yet the players, practically with exception to the defence, played as if they were in a friendly. Very frustrating.
A mention to Scotland for their superb win against Georgia, the Scots gained the lead on 11mins through Kris Boyd but were pegged back by former Rangers man Shota Arveladze minutes before the half time break. Craig Beattie scored the winner just minutes before full time and the Tartan Army go to Italy on Wednesday.
Ireland recorded a 1-0 win against Wales via the aptly named Stephen Ireland in the first football match at the Croke Park stadium, and Northern Ireland witnessed more excellent work from Leeds' David Healy as his hat-trick not only aided the side to victory but recorded Healy as the first Irishman to score two international hat-tricks. Another mention to Porto's Ricardo Quaresma, who collected on the right by the penalty box to cut inside and dip a tremendous effort up and over the Belgian keeper during Portugal's 4-0 win.