Wednesday, July 05, 2006

England's Failure in The World Cup.

This will be brief, as I know this is well after the event, and a lot of people with far more knowledge of football have analysed this thoroughly. But here's my tuppence worth anyway.

Players picked.

I don't disagree with many of the squad selections. That said, some do seem to be a bit odd. First up, Theo Walcott: a kid who hasn't even played in the Premiership and hasn't actually played a first-team game since before Xmas. Bit of an odd selection and if you were Jermain Defoe or Marcus Bent you'd have to think you'd done something personally to upset Svennis. Even Andy Johnson had proven Premiership experience and a goal scoring record far in excess of many other forwards, yet it looks like he wasn't even considered. (Remember, when Sven did play him, he stuck him wide on the right wing, which has never been his natural position).

Secondly, I have to admit having serious doubts about Owen Hargreaves. I hold my hands up here and say he did very well in his natural role of holding midfielder. He looked accomplished on the ball, tackled well and often, and passed the ball sensibly. He, it should be noted, was the only English player who managed to convert a penalty in the Quarter Final shootout versus Portugal. He's not a Gennaro Gatuso - my player of the tournament - by any stretch of the imagination, but played well enough to have deserved his place in the squad.

Thirdly & fourthly, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. I am, as I've previously admitted, a Newcastle United fan, but that said, I don't truly understand why Owen was picked ahead of either Defoe or Bent. Owen broke his foot in a challenge with Paul Robinson during the first half of a game at Tottenham at New Year. In the subsequent six months, he played all of an hour and a half for Newcastle. He looked severely off the pace. He gets to the World Cup and is expected to play as a lone striker. I'm not in the least surprised it didn't work. When he came to Newcastle he was coming back from injury and took about six games to get up to speed and even then was playing alongside Alan Shearer in a front two.

Wayne Rooney, however, I think was a mistake for a different reason. There's a lot being placed on his (admittedly chunky) shoulders. To carry an England team to the World Cup final was perhaps a bit optomistic. He didn't score in any of the qualifying games that got us to the World Cup itself, but Sven seemed utterly convinved that the Boy Wonder would score during the tournament itself. To the extent that he waited until the last possible minute to make sure he was fit enough to play ANY part in any match. But even though he regained match fitness to some extent, he doesn't play as a lone striker for his club side and isn't the type of player you want doing so for the country.

Tactics chosen.

In fact the only way you could possibly play Rooney up front by himself would be to have two attacking midfielders wide behind him, making it three up front when the ball was won. Joe Cole - who despite playing on the left is very much right-footed and cuts inside far too much - would be handy, alongwith Steven Gerrard or even Aaron Lennon. Even Stuart Downing would be fine for the left wing, or, if we could find a replacement left-back, Ashley Cole.

Three in midfield, one defensive (Hargreaves) and two more attacking but able to defend when necessary (Ashley Cole and Lampard), leaving us with the flat back four. You could even go with four across the midfield (including another more central holding midfielder, possibly Michael Carrick) and have three centre-backs. It's not as if we're short of quality centre-halves these days.

You'll note the lack of David Beckham and Peter Crouch. Or a classic 4-4-2 formation. Is Steve McLaren the man to change our system and players so dramatically? Probably not. Is he the man to lead England to a European championship or a World Cup win? I doubt it. He was shown as tactically niave in the Premiership - top ten finish anyone?. While he did manage to get to a UEFA Cup semi-final, I think everybody in the world is now fully aware of his "go down by a goal or two then throw on three strikers" approach.

So yeah, it irritates me we went out in the Quarter Finals. It does please me, however that there seems to be a lot of people in the crowd for the France v Portugal Semi-Final who are booing Cristiano Ronaldo just for the sake of it. It's like there's a lot of England fans there who didn't think for one second we'd not be there and have taken the opportunity to turn up and enjoy their evening anyway.

As much as it pains me to say this, "Come on the French!


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