The Irony: Choose left or right, yet England crash straight ahead
Alan Shearer: "What I couldn't, what I couldn't fathom out again is, is that we got back into the game 2-2, whether we deserve to do that or not because they still missed 2 or 3 good chances, Croatia, but for the 15mins to go I heard Mark Lawrenson say what England don't need to do now is sit back, and they'd done that, they'd done the hard work in getting back to 2-2, and I just thought 'why change?'
Alan Hansen: "But [England] were sitting back and there were huge gaps between the back four and [midfield] and that's what happened with the winning goal. Nobody got tight quick enough, and it ends up in the back of the net."
Tonight I am devastated. The England national team have failed to qualify for the Euro2008 tournament next year by crashing out 2-3 against Croatia. And how. We were generally a jigsaw puzzle put together then looking to come apart on occasion because we allowed ourselves to be opened up. It was a huge game, one where the onus of victory was placed in our hands, given to us on a plate like an offering from the gods. And this is major news because we have never failed to qualify since the World Cup campaign of 1994. We have a wealth of talent in English football and with the fortune from Saturday on our sides we simply messed it up big time. How is it we were granted not one, but TWO results on Saturday evening to help us into this game, and we messed it up? We had the novelty of a win and three points on the left side, or the novelty of a draw on the right side and like a stupid idiot given an opportunity which was hardly deserved, England went straight ahead and ran into a brick wall, buckled and looked up to see it had 'FAILURE', written on it. Wouldn't have helped if we had a Sat-Nav and a compass.
Note the two quotes above, I noted them straight off the BBC broadcast as Ian Wright, Shearer and Hansen with Gary Lineker looked jaded. Word for word. Wright said something along the lines that after what we had achieved in the group, we did not deserve to win tonight. I think from how we played tonight, given the good results on Saturday, we did not deserve to win and got what we earned. Devastating to watch how we started, not one but two goals down by half time, to gain two goals back then to throw it away was comical, lousy, poor and unprofessional for a side like England who had defended with backs to the wall against Portugal with 10-men in the WC2006 so we can defend if need be.
I heard the 4-5-1 formation and I cringed. I say England stick to 4-4-2, I find that more accommodating with players who do not play together collectively, I always find that formation is standard, basic and secure enough for England. Croatia started the brighter, which concerned me, and eight minutes later that wall came closer. Luca Modric had the ball on the right, looked (so he was allowed time on the ball), spotted the run of Nico Kranjcar that no on else could, the Pompey man was allowed time to run up and go to the right to shoot, and it's the same lousy mistake we have been making recently. The shot was comfortable enough for Scott Carson to gather but Carson allowed the ball to come to him rather than him to the ball and he misjudged its arrival, the ball bounced in front of him and skimmed off his left arm into the goal.
Clearly Carson should have got body behind the ball. No hindsight talking, I was surprised that in a crucial game rookie Carson was opted for ahead of David James who has more experience and form. Even Robert Green has had to find form and done so more than Carson.
The second goal was even worse. Sol Campbell cleared upfield, Peter Crouch nodded it down, Croatia skipper Nico Kovac chested then cleared, Eduardo da Silva was ALLOWED a free head, Ivica Olic outjumped Joleon Lescott to head the ball back to Eduardo, like an aerial one-two, the Arsenal man goes on the run with Campbell, Wayne Bridge and Lescott in tow, Campbell looked out of stamina at times and he failed to cut off Eduardo, come across him and pressure him away from goal. While this is happening, Olic has dashed down to give Eduardo an option to pass, Gareth Barry looks round at Olic TWICE and makes no instruction or movement to the danger, and on Olic's left is Shaun Wright-Phillips. FIVE England players, three of which have Eduardo surrounded and yet Eduardo slips a ball through Campbell's legs to the run of Olic, whom neither of Barry nor SWP have followed, SWP plays the offside-trap but Bridge is clearly not aware of it, Olic rounds Carson because we are awaiting an offside decision and scores no.2. Shambles.
So we go in 0-2 down with the inevitable boos and looking absolutely rocked. Steve McClaren changes Barry and SWP for Jermaine Defoe and David Beckham. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are back to the central role that has been a major debate, and away we go. We get a break. Joe Cole chips a ball into the box and as Defoe goes for it he is pulled back slightly by Josip Simunic. A big penalty for England, Lampard steps up, big pressure to score from 12 yards, the keeper sways more to his left in expectation and therefore gifts the right side more space for Lampard to score. The thing was now we go and hit them for the second, no letting up. Then it comes. Beckham is gifted the ball by Micah Richards, Beckham drops in a cross first time, it evades the Croatian defender for Crouch to chest control and put past the keeper. Sweet mercy, we have the game level. B ut again, we go at Croatia for the third goal to put us on a more comfortable level, so if they were to score another, at 3-3 we could hold and move into a draw AT THE LEAST.
No, what did we do? We sat back too deep and allowed them to come at us now, as if we had things comfortable already. If I was McClaren or Gerrard, I would be hailing for England to not do so, take positions to block out any attempted passes through, get possession and get at Croatia and not relent until we have scored that third goal. In sitting back we allowed Danijel Pranjic to come off the left and find Mladen Petric in space. AGAIN, a Croatian player in space. Commentator John Motson said, when Petric came on as sub, that he was a left-footed striker and that he should be watched and I also felt he looked keen to strike shots, and that is exactly what he did. Given time and space that he should not have, he struck a shot that Carson seemed to have seen a split-second too late and barely got tips to it as it went in.
Carson saved us when a Croatian corner was not dealt with and a header from point-blank range was stopped by virtue of Carson being in the right place, the ball cannoning off his chest. Motson kep tchalking it up as a save but we were fortunate he was there as he knew little about it. We were overall shocking and poor. We were not good enough, my MOTM from England was Crouch. McClaren has said post-match he will not resign. The FA are to hold a board meeting tomorrow morning at 8.30am presumably to discuss whether McClaren stays or goes, and I think the decision will be he should stay for financial reasons.
But McClaren for me is just one ramification. Nuff said.