Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Mixed Bag

England 2-2 Sweden / Trinidad & Tobago 0-2 Paraguay

A mixed bag indeed, but at least the Sven-bashers haven't got quite as much of a leg to stand on as they had previously. His hand was forced by the horrible first minute injury to Michael Owen. Well, I hope that the Owen-bashers are happy too. There's a good chance that he'll be out for the rest of the tournament. And! (I can only hope that this feels them with glee and delight) He suffered a tremendous amount of physical pain, as well! DOUBLE BONUS! The injury to Owen not only forced England to more or less throw their attacking plans out of the window, but also meant that theyessectively lost a substitution. Don't tell me for a second that this didn't make a difference in the closing minutes.

As it turned out, the first-half performance was, considering everything, outstanding. Rooney looked sharp, latching onto Beckham's superb long pass and almost scoring. If a Brazilian had scored the goal that Cole did, we wouldn't hear the end of it for the remainder of the tournament. I've already seen his goal described on another blog as a "fluke". Make of that what you wish. It was an excellent team display, with Lampard and Rooney peppering the Swedish goal with long-range shots, but the pick of the crop was... hold your breath... Hargreaves. More under the spotlight than a defensive midfielder would normally be, he tackled, chased, hassled, and more or less single-handedly nullified any Swedish threat. Should he keep his place in the second round, he will have thoroughly deserved his place.

The second half started badly. First off, an outstanding header to level the scores - Allback spinning the ball across the face of the goal from a near-impossible angle. Then, the wheels started to fall off the wagon slightly. Robinson saved brilliantly from a second Allback header. Minutes later, Mellberg hit the bar, and shortly after that, Kallstrom had a short cleared off the line. It was a stunning spell of play from Sweden, but it all came from set-pieces. In the mean-time, Ferdinand went off with
another thigh strain (are England doing something wrong in warming up?), and Rooney had tired to an extent that he had to be replaced by Gerrard, leaving Crouch on his own up front, flapping like a broken weather-vane.

Slowly though, in playing 4-5-1, England began to re-assert themselves, and with five minutes to go, Gerrard headed them back in front from a cross by Cole. This time, it looked like it would be enough, but that was reckoning without a last minute piece of slap-stick English defending, to allow Larsson to scuff home an equalizer. It was no less than they deserved, on the basis of their second-half performance.

Meanwhile, Paraguay were beating the hapless Trinidad by two goals to nil to render the draw unnecessary for Sweden. England are thrhough as group winners, with Sweden now facing an enormously difficult match against the hosts. As I said before, I don't think that England have anything to fear from Ecuador. They were tidy against Poland and Costa Rica, but I've already stated before that I think that Poland and Costa Rica were amongst the worst teams that I've seen in the tournament. They may have played five reserves against Germany, but only a fool would play a team to deliberately lose a match in the World Cup finals, and they were really poor against a German team that could have scored seven or eight.

England need, I think, to work on that 4-5-1 formation ahead of their next game. They also need to practice defending their set-pieces, and put Rooney in for some fitness training. Other than that, I see no reason why they can't make the last eight at least. I would also have liked to see Walcott, as I think that Crouch is starting to get found out at this level. The lack of attacking options
is somewhat alarming, but, for one thing, it's now too late to bring anybody else into the squad, and for another, England at least have the luxury of goalscoring midfielders such as Cole & Gerrard. If the goals keep coming from the likes of them, Owen may not be missed at all. Cheer up! It's not all bad news!


Moore said...

The worst news tonight might be the possible loss of Ferdinand against Ecuador, but I haven't checked on that yet. Campbell looked a bit lumpy. I guess that's to be expected but if Neville doesn't recover by the weekend we're suddenly looking thin all over the pitch. Still, we've seen Beckham can do a good job at right back behind Lennon if the worst comes to the worst.

I would have liked to see Walcott too, and I think we would have if not for Ferdinand getting a knock and Rooney puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine.

We'll beat Ecuador for the simple reason that I've never met an Ecuadorian, and am not likely to in the near future, and we always get beaten by someone with a fan around to take the piss out of me at work. Fear Portugal in this regard.

discostu said...

I take issue with your "outstanding" first half. By ten minutes gone i had counted several forward moves where sweden had two men unmarked in attack (which was to be a feature of the game) - a slightly more proficient/confident side would have walloped us for that.
A MUCH better performance overall however, apart from the defending, which remained unorganised, confused and at times woeful. I despaired that it was ITV, when i wanted to hear Hansons views.
A beautiful goal from Cole though, THATS when you hoof it, not every time you come within 30 yds of goal. Thoroughly deserved i thought, hed been excellent.
Hargreaves played well. There. I said it.

Second half - jesus. Whatever svennis is or isnt, hes no team talker at half time. Unless someones putting mogadon in their tea.
Still no Theo. Someone remind me why we brought him again?

On that performance, i'll be overjoyed if we make the quarter finals. If Argentina are the new Brazil, England are the new Spain. I'm not sure whether owen is a blow or a blessing.

colin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
colin said...

I think you're being tremendously kind to the coach, really.

If England were lacking in attacking options, I'd say the impact of losing Owen is somewhat overshadowed by just not packing any for the trip in the first place.

The improvement in the first half was obvious, if very short-lived ... and I probably shouldn't say any more about Joe Cole in case people get the idea I fancy him.

However, the most worrying thing from an England perspective, if you ask me, was the defence - probably because it had been the saving grace up until now.

With the exception of Terry, I thought it was pretty dire, particularly at set pieces.

I don't think there was anything particularly outstanding about Allback's goal. All right, he met the ball very well, but against any defence even doing a vague impression of its job, he would never have got his head on the ball at all - he would have stood around like a fart in a trance like he has for the other two games.

Every single time the ball came to the front post, England let the attacker get between them and the ball. It was horrible.

Not content with getting the wrong side of his man, Beckham was kind enough to give Allback a yard of space too.

For the second, everybody just stood and watched as the long throw came in. Campbell had a sort of fresh-air swipe at it and Ashley Cole stood by the post and threw rose petals in the path of the ball as it found its way into the corner. Just awful.

It was one of those games, I suppose. They did, for want of a better word, okay ... and they won the group.

However, I get an overwhelming smell of a team that has found itself halfway through a world cup without any idea of how it wants to play, or intends to deal with opposition that aspires to anything greater than competence at this level.

As I've said before, I don't bear England any ill will in the tournament at all, but I just can't enjoy watching any side labouring to results the way they have done - particularly considering the talents at their disposal.

twohundredpercent said...

I agree with what you say about the lack of attacking options, Colin, but I've chosen not to discuss this, because it's too late to do anything about this. Most of the other blogs that I have been reading are still slating Eriksson over this decision, but there's no point in raking over it again. The decision was made some weeks ago, and it's a bit late to do anything about it now. Both goals were defended poorly, but Allback's header was a tremendous one. I agree that the biggest concern was the defending - England had depended on it in their first two matches, and were found out on set pieces last night.

The morning after, and it doesn't look too bad. I still don't think that Ecuador are anything like as good as they're being cracked up to be and, presuming that Argentina win their group, a place in the semi-finals is still up for grabs.

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