Saturday, 19 June 2010

England’s lack of excuses

I imagine that England’s 0-0 draw with Algeria in Cape Town last night was not a particularly entertaining watch for a neutral viewer. For me, watching England is usually a frustrating and painful experience, however last night was a little embarrassing also. Watching the tournament unfold over the first week, it seemed that matches were starting to open up, goals were starting to flow and teams were beginning to express themselves. Last night at the Green Point Stadium however, England and Algeria did their best to drag the standard of football down to new depths.

Algeria’s lack of ambition was not surprising, they played for a 0-0 and they achieved their objective. It was a risky strategy from the Algerians, especially considering that they lost their first game, but they now still have a chance to qualify from the group if they can beat USA in their final group game on Wednesday. Algeria did well last night, they were defensively compact and managed to squeeze England and not allow them any space out wide. They had few attacking opportunities themselves, but never looked uncomfortable dealing with England’s front two.

Despite setting up so defensively, Algeria managed to have 47% possession over the course of the match. Compare this with Switzerland’s 33% from their game with Spain and it is easy to see that England did not put nearly enough pressure on the Algerian defense. I am sure that Algeria were expecting much more from Fabio Capello’s team, and they were defensively prepared for an onslaught which never came. In certain periods of the match, Algeria seemed to gain confidence from England’s ineptness and came forward themselves, albeit without much result.

It is not unusual to see uninspiring England performances, but last night’s was truly terrible. England often struggle to break down determined defenses, but they are normally left with a referring decision or two to complain about, a wasted chance here and there or some other freak stroke of ‘bad luck’. Yesterday however, England didn’t even have any excuses to lamely cling to. Their play was unimaginative in the extreme, their work rate was well below par and almost every individual performance was timid and terribly poor. Lampard and Gerrard couldn’t complete 10 yard passes when not under any pressure and Rooney decided to forget how to control a football. In one particularly funny moment, Emile Heskey attempted a bit of skill when cutting in from the right, only to trip all over his own feet and the ball before kicking it straight out for a goal kick, classic. Heskey’s hold up play was also only marginally better than having a wheelie-bin up front.

It is difficult to see how England’s problems can be fixed. Players like Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard should not be constantly misplacing short passes and allowing the ball to cannon off their shins as they attempt to bring it down. Something other than tactics and personnel must at fault here. This morning’s press are indicating that the player’s could not deal with the pressure of playing in a World Cup. Fabio Capello said "We lost too many passes, it was not the same team that I know, the team I see when they train". Maybe the pressure has become debilitating for the England players, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. A goal can do wonders for relieving pressure, and beating Slovenia on Wednesday could see England finish top of Group C.

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