Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bloody Hell.

For those of you looking at this tomorrow morning, I didn't sneak back and add my prediction for the England match after the final whistle. A 3-0 win away to Andorra. The result alone says quite a lot, really, but there was much more to it than that. As has been noted elsewhere, Andorra, with ten men behind the ball, kicking away at the English midfield like lumberjacks with blunt axes, and tumbling around or time-wasting from more or less the first minute, hardly fitted the bill of "plucky underdogs", but England were so devoid of, well, anything, that my sympathy for them didn't take long to start festering. Rooney wasn't interested in anything other than getting in a fight, Lennon's delivery was absolutely shocking, Ashley Cole seemed incapable of even being able to control the ball properly, and Steven Gerrard's passing from midfield was bad enough to make me start wondering whether he has issues with depth perception.

Against a motley collection of (in a fairly literal sense) butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, England were dismal. They were limited, in the first half, to a couple of shots from outside the penalty area, and the crowd were more than generous in only booing them off at half-time. If I'd spent over £500 on flights, transfers, a hotel room and spending money and witnessed that, half of their heads would have been on spikes before they could get back to the sanctity of the dressing room. In the pub in Brighton, we wondered idly whether the Andorrans could hold out for a 0-0 draw or, perhaps, sneak a goal on the break. No such luck. Ten minutes into the second half, Steven Gerrard scored, and that was that. Frankly, Gerrard's celebrations were embarrassing. Well done Steven. You scored twice against a team with the clout and pulling power of a Conference South side. You must be very proud. There was one tiny ray of sunshine, which was the huge smile on David Nugent's face as he drove the third goal in from several millimetres out. At least there was one person on the pitch that actually wanted to be there.

So, where do they stand? Results elsewhere in their group mean that they dropped a place to fourth, so some sort of justice was done, at least. The fact of the matter is that they need to improve ten-fold in order to get a result in Estonia in the summer, and let's try to put matches against Croatia and Russia to the back of our minds for now. My suspicion is still that England will somehow do enough to qualify for these finals but, at the moment, they sure as hell don't deserve it. The BBC have been more concerned with how "nervous" and "edgy" they were, but that is, frankly, irrelevant. They were indisciplined, unadventurous and badly organised. They (and by "they", I mean all of them - the FA, the management and the players) deserve all the criticism that they will undoubtedly have lavished upon them tomorrow.

Everything that was missing from England's performance this evening was on display at Windsor Park, where Northern Ireland came from a goal behind to beat Sweden 2-1 and go top of their group. David Healy, who scored two wonderful goals, is surely headed for better things. He scored a hat-trick against Liechenstein on Saturday but, strangely, has only scored eight times for poor old Leeds United this season. He plays his international football without fear and with enormous amounts of guile. If I was a Premiership manager looking to take a speculative gamble on a player from outside the top flight this summer, there are worse players that I could bet upon. Northern Ireland, then, leapfrog over Sweden, and stay four points clear of Spain, who were uninspiring again in beating Iceland 1-0. Can the Northern Irish get through? Hmm. They've still got to play Sweden and Spain away, but those two have still got to play each other once more too, so there's still all to play for. They certainly couldn't be in a better position than the one that they're in now. Moreover, they care.

Finally, Scotland reverted to type by losing 2-0 to Italy in Bari tonight. The match became a face-off between the Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon and Italy's Luca Toni. Despite Gordon pulling off a string of excellent saves, Toni won the battle, scoring both of Italy's goals. Because France weren't playing this evening, the Scots only drop to second place behind Ukraine, but their earlier defeat in Kiev is suddenly looking very expensive indeed. They have a tough trip to Paris to come, so we can rest assured that they're likely to need full points from their home matches against Ukraine and Italy. As Alan Hansen might say, it's a "big ask". Also, Wales beat San Marino at a largely empty Millennium Stadium ("Match Of The Day" didn't even mention it), and the Republic of Ireland breathed a little more air into the corpse of their campaign by beating Slovakia 1-0 at Croke Park. I can't help but think that this is about as good as things are going to get for them under Steve Staunton.


discostu said...

Great result for NI, if i hadnt had to change pubs at half time because of tardy friends i would have ditched the england game (shown in the pool room at the Famous Three Kings at west ken - Scotland were in the front bar and NI in the back) and cheered on Northern Ireland.

Gary said...

You can see the two Healy goals on my video from the stands at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M3E9CkQYfY Enjoy!

Neil said...

I think I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Steve McClaren, he's incrasingly looking like the office gimp who's been promoted waaaaay beyond his competence and has no idea what to do with the collection of half-arsed ego-fuelled pack of ovverated nancies that he's taken charge of.

Ed said...

I watched the highlights wondering if these really are the best 11 English players we could find. Before coming to the troubling conclusion that, yes, they are. The fact that England spent the majority of the game, against the worst team in Europe, having wildly optimistic stabs from outside the box is appalling.

Are Andorra better than we thought they were? Not on your nelly. Are England as good as we thought? I'm beginning to wonder. I'd not even like to call this the worst England team I've ever seen, because 'team' would imply that, at some level, there was anything like a group dynamic or shared goals between them. Compare with Northern Ireland: there's not one player in their side, not one, better than any English players. But they work together and get what they deserve. David Healy was superb.

Bring back Eriksson! The levels of competence, flair and passion were just the same (none), but at least he somehow got the results out.

colin said...

For someone I keep getting told is the best left back around, Ashley Cole's first touch is a tackle.

Also, in an England shirt, Stuart Downing has the demeanour of a sickly child being forced to play football by overbearing parents.

Neil said...

This here is an excellent article about the state of English football in general


Design by Dzelque Blogger Templates 2007-2008