Monday, June 26, 2006

26 June 2006: Through...

... but only just.

We went over to Doug's to watch the game on a 'real size' TV, but frankly that just seemed to make England play even less fluently than usual. Maybe the wide, open spaces of a bigger screen got to them? Must remember to watch the quarter-final against Portugal (QF against Portugal? Hang on, have we just stepped into a time-warp and gone back two years?) at home on a small TV.

Weirdest thing is that nobody can agree on the performance. Sven, naturally, says it was a good show; Phil McNulty liberally sprinkles his report with phrases such as 'lifeless', 'unconvincing' and 'lacking in freedom and tempo'. Graham Taylor says Michael Carrick failed to do the job; Alan Hansen says Carrick was man-of-the-match . David Beckham says he 'silenced his critics'; Terry Butcher has invited Beckham to his hotel room to tell him in person how poor he is, one England captain to another. (Hint: that probably won't cheer him up, Terry.) And most interestingly, Mark Lawrenson, all the way through the BBC TV commentary, kept saying what a good performance it was, and England played really well considering the innate restrictions with the 4-5-1 system.

But here's the thing. They didn't have to play 4-5-1. Sven chose to. He chose to drop Crouch (not the greatest player in the world, but the only England forward in any kind of scoring form), he chose to have the not-fit Rooney play all alone up front against, often, three defenders. He chose to have the midfield over-run with too many non-tackling players. He chose to squash, suffocate, kill the game, playing defensively and trying to make it safe and have England not concede a goal.

The problem with it is this: England's defence, John Terry in particular, is for some reason lacking confidence in a big way. No matter how defensive the midfield formation is, and how good you think Owen Hargreaves might be as a right-back (what was that all about?), if your defence isn't happy and your goalkeeper is flappy, you might as well just pretend you're Brazil and try and score a few goals, assuming that you'll be conceding a couple in process.

But not Sven. If Ecuador had scored early on (and, Ashley Cole's wonderful tackle and the crossbar apart, they should have done), can you really imagine England could have stepped up a gear and gone on the attack? They didn't have a gear to step up into: they were in neutral all the way through yesterday, the gearbox clearly defective. Rooney is the key cog in that gearbox, but he was disengaged from the rest of the team most of the time and saw little of the ball; when he had it, there was nobody for him to pass it to. And if Beckham hadn't scored when he did, substitutions were coming: Crouch coming on? An attacking substitution by Sven? Never! Thankfully for Sven, Beckham saved him from having to do that.

So England won, they're through to the last eight of the world cup, but seriously, had we been playing Argentina/Brazil/Germany/Spain/France/Sweden (yes, Sweden) like that, England would have lost. What I want to see is England play well. What I'm happy to see is England win. What I fear is that England will not win against Portugal unless they can find the problem with the engine and fix it.

That 6-0 drubbing of Jamaica seems a long time ago now, doesn't it?

And one more quick thing: when Robinson went down injured, and briefly looked as if he might be out of the game with ten minutes to go, Doug and I looked at each other and said one word: 'Calamity'. Robinson may have his critics right now, but can you even begin to imagine the carnage if Calamity James had to step in? We'd have done well to keep it under five, I reckon.

Postscript: blogger's spellcheck thinks I need to replace 'goalkeeper' with 'chalkboard'. Frankly I think blogger has a point, and someone needs to tell Sven.

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