We have to be careful not to let the big issue of England's defeat to Germany be missed in the subsequent fallout: England were terrible and terribly managed.
Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal not given and Sepp Blatter will surely roll out an excuse for why he is right to ignore calls for goalline technology. Both are big issues but the goalline-technology debate has been a big issue for a long time. The case for goalline technology has to be championed but it is a debate for another day. Whether Lampard's goal had been given or not is pretty much irrelevant as Germany were in a different parish in terms of class and, in my opinion, would have won in any case.
England had a ten-minute spell when they were on top, but for the other 80 minutes they were chasing shadows. That England's keeper was the best player in a 4-1 drubbing speaks volumes. We witnessed the sight of John Terry, for so long a player that you could set your clock by in terms of reliability, fail to grasp the concept of altitude and Matthew Upson fail to grasp the basic concept of defending.
Steven Gerrard, Lampard and James Milner cannot be accused of a lack effort - they were simply outperformed by a slick Germany midfield. This was a Germany midfield that deployed the luxury player that was Mesut Ozil. He spent the whole game simply drifting into gaps, working space and hurting the opposition. England did not have the capacity to deal with him or the ability to hit back because the manager does not believe such players can be carried. Germany can breathe a sigh of relief that Joachim Low does not sing from the same hymn sheet.
What also cannot be overlooked is England were carrying passengers. Gareth Barry is a quality player but a clearly unfit one. His touch at times was awful and the way Ozil gave him a five-yard start and still went past him had to be seen to be believed. The only excuse for Barry's impression of wading through treacle was a lack of sharpness. And the manager must take the blame for deploying a player who could not do the job.
The other passenger was Wayne Rooney. It is not in doubt that he is the nation's best player, but he looked a shell of a man and has done all tournament. He has not been fit since damaging his ankle against Bayern Munich and then being rolled out for the second leg of Manchester United's Champions League clash and going over the ankle again. The subsequent groin injury will have been picked up on account of him overcompensating for the ankle problem. It is commendable that he wanted to play but he was not up to the task and the manager should have been big enough to have seen this and put someone else in his place. There was no power in the Rooney legs and without that he is half the player. Capello clearly felt that a half fit Rooney was better than his other forward options. That was not the case.
The other concern from the Germany game was Capello's refusal to change his system. At 3-1 down it was not really the time to take off the most likely source of a goal, Jermain Defoe, and replace him with another striker. If he wanted to throw on Emile Heskey then it would have been better to take off a defender or midfielder and play three up top. Yes it would have given Germany more space but it would also have given them something new to think about. To go out of the World Cup without rolling the dice is not acceptable.
A lumbering 0-0 draw with the mighty Algeria still leaves England’s qualification hopes in their own hands.
A win over Slovenia will allow England to progress into the second round, possibly as group winners, but as things stand and with the team that was sent out against Algeria, that will not be good enough. The team that was sent out against Algeria will probably beat Slovenia – but that will not mask that things need to change, and fast.
The change that needs to be made, and it will take a brave manager to do it, is for Fabio Capello to grasp the nettle and drop Frank Lampard. ‘Drop Frank Lampard?’ the calls come. ‘Yes’ is the answer. Lampard is one of the finest midfielders this country has produced in recent times, but he is in a team that possesses a better one. Steven Gerrard is quite simply a better midfielder than Lampard.
But Gerrard is paying the price for being a better midfielder than Lampard. He is superior, the victim of his own quality if you like, and he is being asked to play the square-peg-in-round-hole role. Capello has round pegs for round holes but so far he has, for reasons unknown to me, declined to use them.
In Joe Cole, England have the one player who is ideally suited to international football. Cole may not have got a regular game at club level last season, but he is a player of the highest class and is a player who knows the value of the football. To win at international level, you have to control, caress, love the ball. England do not do that, the Premier League does not lend itself to that type of football, but Cole is one player who has that trait.
Cole needs to be let off the leash to take on the role on the left-hand side of midfield – freeing Gerrard from those shackles. To do that needs a radical change. Capello is unlikely to change from his 4-4-2. Some said Sven did not have a Plan B, well I’d rather have Sven but that is a story for another day.
Capello can retain his beloved 4-4-2, but he must bring in Cole, shift Gerrard to the middle and inform Lampard that his role is one of bench warmer. By handing Gerrard the role in the middle he can, with Gareth Barry guarding the shop, have freedom to wander, create and inspire in the way he does for Liverpool.
Tough decisions are required for England to progress and we need to see if this hard-line Italian has it in him to make those decisions.
Andy Murray's third-round clash at Queen's with Mardy Fish was halted at 3-3 in the final set on account of bad light. A good time to take the players off, you might think. Not if you are Andy Murray.
The British No. 1 had fought back from 3-0 down to level things. The momentum was with Murray, Fish knew it, and in another 15 minutes he might well have wrapped up the match.
It was gloomy, but not unplayable. Fish could see the match drifting away and chanced his arm. He went up to the umpire and gave his best 'I can't see impression'. The referee was called and Fish followed that fine first serve with an excellent volley 'it's a bit slippy and could be dangerous'. The referee could not dig out a stroke to counter and the match was duly called off. Faster than he had moved at any stage in the match, Fish picked up his bag and scurried off to the locker room.
All the while, Murray was stood on the baseline waiting to receive serve. As Fish wandered off, a mix of disbelief and rage drifted across Murray's face. But still he stood, until finally he trudged back to his chair - as if accepting that Fish had not gone for a quick change of shirt. At which point the tirade began. He complained that the light was good enough to play, that he had been given no warning that play would soon be called off and, the most pertinent point, that Fish had shown no desire to come off when leading 3-0 ten minutes earlier.
Murray's points were valid but were a little like shutting the door after the Fish had bolted. As soon as he saw Fish heading for the chair to persuade the umpire that the match should be halted, he should have been up there as well stating his case that the game should carry on.
Fish knew he was struggling and tried it on, successfully. Murray should have been alive to the situation.
It may all turn out fine as he could seal the win upon the resumption, but it is certainly a lesson learned.
|Alex Livie found his way to ESPN after learning his trade with Sky Sports, Setanta Sports and Eurosport. He is running out of companies with sport in their name so has made it his raison d'être to ensure ESPN.co.uk has the website it deserves.|
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