Sunday, July 02, 2006

England out of World Cup

English hopes crushed by Portugal; Inquest opened and adjourned

The only talking point yesterday evening in South Shields was the disastrous penalty shoot out that saw England defeated by Portugal in the World Cup Quarter-Final, whilst plenty pubs and clubs were showing the French beating Brazil we were all opening the inquest into England's demise rather than watching Brazil being humbled.

My conversations with similar souls in the Shields Snooker Center on Chichester Road revolved around the Rooney sending off incident, Christiano Ronaldo's "cheating", and Sven Goran Errikson's failures tactically. There was general agreement that Ronaldo appears to be positioning himself for a move to Real Madrid and any return to Old Trafford is going to be fraught with difficulties, especially having to rebuild relationships with Rooney and Neville, not to mention any possible reactions from Alex Ferguson. Ronaldo's headbut on Rooney at the start of the game, his 20 metre sprint to the referee demanding a card after Rooney tangled with Carvalho, and his subsequent winking towards the Portugese bench after the sending off met with harsh criticism from football fans in South Shields. It was difficult to assess why Rooney received the red card, was it for stamping (which did not look intentional or malicious), or was it for the pushing in the ensuing melee promoted by Ronaldo? Either way, the young Portugese winger looked satisfied with his efforts.

England's ten men may well have played "heroically" for the rest of the game, but the fact remains that Errikson was short of striking talent from the moment that the team flew from England to Germany. At the time Rooney and Owen were unfit, Crouch was untested at this level, and a seventeen year old Theo Walcott without Premiership experience was preferred to more established strikers such as Marcus Bent, who scored more goals than any other Englishmen in the Premiership last season. The Swedish manager could not see that the only two times when England looked dangerous against opponents was when Beckham, who has been nowhere near his best in this tournament, and Joe Cole were off the pitch and replaced by Downing and Lennon. If only we could have contrived to play a 4-4-2 formation in these circumstances then goals may well have come. Why on earth were Rooney and Crouch never played together in a 4-4-2? Why was Walcott taken and never used?

The idea of playing a lone striker against some of the world's best defences in the knock-out stage is totally mystifying, the role was not suited to either Rooney or Crouch and neither Lampard nor Gerrard effectively supported the striker.

Three cheers must go to Owen Hargreaves, the Canadian-German-Englishman has a heart of a lion, and in my estimation was our best player of the tournament, it is time for some team to bring him into the Premiership.

It is to be hoped that Steve McClaren has learned some valuable lessons this last fortnight.

BBC pundit Alan Hansen commented;

But the decision by the manager to play one up front was absolute folly. The system never looked like working. Everyone will question the manager now and rightly so.

Whenever the English players go to any tournament they will always want to play a system that they know and are comfortable with. And they didn't have that.

I think the manager has contributed to England's downfall. He never got the shape or balance of the team right.


BBC Sport

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