England were dreadful but don’t be surprised
People can and will talk about Frank Lampard’s wrongly-disallowed goal all day long but to concentrate on that would miss the much bigger problems that contributed to one of England’s worst-ever World Cup performances.
Claims that their players play too many games, suffer from not having a winter break and that the national team is hurt by the number of foreign players in key positions at the Premier League’s major clubs are all valid.
But the underlying issue is that England’s players, for all their superstar status at home, have rarely been good enough to challenge for a semi-final slot, let alone actually think about winning the World Cup. In this tournament they were undone by their inability to reproduce their club form as individuals or see the big picture as a team.
Coach Fabio Capello deserves his share of the blame, having promised to pick players on form but then going back on his word with spectacularly appalling results.
When Rio Ferdinand was ruled out with injury Capello called up Michael Dawson, the form centre half of the season. Yet after Ledley King, as everyone knew he would, went down injured, Capello opted for Matthew Upson at centre back.
Upson, who had a largely wretched season at West Ham United, delivered a leaden-footed display.
Germany’s opening goal on Sunday would have shamed a pub team. A goal kick, missed by everyone, a centre forward allowed to run on to it and with one touch put Germany ahead – too shocking for words.
The defending for the rest of Germany’s goals was almost as bad, with poor positioning, sluggish running and what seemed an oblivious awareness of danger opening the door for some admittedly sharp counter-attacks to go all the way past David James.
Wayne Rooney has not looked fit since he injured his ankle in March and, only after repeated failures by Emile Heskey in the early games, did Capello bring in Jermain Defoe, who finished the season as the league’s sharpest-looking attacker.
Yet when England were desperate to get back into the game on Sunday who did the Italian call on? Peter Crouch perhaps, who has a terrific international goal return, or Heskey?
The nationwide groan when Heskey trotted on must have been almost as loud as the when the replay was shown of Lampard’s goal bouncing a foot over the line.
As the England players swapped shirts after their worst-ever World Cup defeat were any of them thinking “maybe it was not such a great idea to waste time at the end of the Slovenia game clinging on to a 1-0 win”? Unlikely.
Pressing for a second goal there could have earned a second-round match against Ghana and a possible quarter-final against Uruguay.
Instead the 1-0 victory, greeted by a mass on-pitch dance, sent them into the quarter of the draw with Germany and Argentina.
The sad truth, however, is that on the evidence of Sunday’s display it would not have mattered where England went – they were never going to make the semi-finals.
Of course the mentality that greeted that 1-0 Slovenia victory as a cause for national celebration will handily ignore the fact that England were outplayed for 95 percent of Sunday’s match and blame the Uruguayan linesman.
They should wake up to reality and realise that England, for all their bi-ennial bravado, are a second-rate soccer nation and, bar the aberration of home-soil victory in 1966, always have been.
Germany expect to get to finals. Semi-finals are failure and quarter-finals are just part of the process.
England have won two quarter-finals in the history of the World Cup and are still to beat another major nation in a knockout match away from home.
In the European championship they have won one solitary knockout match – against Spain on penalties on home soil in 1996.
Upson and his similarly underperforming team mates will take the tabloid abuse this week but the truth is that they are merely the latest on the production line of sub-standard performers to be built up beyond their ability.
The good news for all of them is that it is only six weeks until the start of the Premier League – the best in the world you might remember – when under unrelenting promotion they will slowly, but surely, begin to again believe they are potential world beaters.
The rest of the world, particularly Germany, will need a little more convincing.
PHOTO: England fans react while watching the World Cup soccer match against Germany on a large screen at the Glastonbury Festival 2010 in southwest England June 27, 2010. Glastonbury, one of the largest open-air music festivals, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor