So much for Capello’s transformation: it was the soul-sappingly familiar England last night, unable to pass the ball efficiently or be sufficiently sharp to overcome inferior opponents. Reassuring early promise subsided into muddling mediocrity until a final flourish almost convinced me that we were unlucky. Even if something had gone in, it would have served only to paper over the cracks.
Green’s mistake might end his career, never mind his tournament. The tabloids, scenting headlines and blood, will not be nearly as generous as the pundits on both channels, but it will be nothing compared with the assault from fans behind each and every away goal next season. For years, Campbell scuttled away from the touchline at the Lane but keepers suffer particularly badly because of course they can’t escape the crowd so easily, however much they may be intent on examining the markings on the 18 yard line when the ball’s up the other end. Chelsea’s excellent Peter Bonetti was taunted to the end of his career after the Germany game in 1970, and that was in a much gentler age: ‘Bonetti lost the World Cup, and so say all of us..’. How Green might wish for something that gentle.
His error was down to technique – he didn’t move his feet. Even when he saved later from Altadore, his technique was exposed, this time he did not get his hands together quickly. However, the decisive factor in the match was England’s failure to sustain their control after the euphoria of Gerrard’s excellent opener died down. Instead of passing our way forward and retaining possession, we played the long ball too often (Ledley being guilty a few times, sad to say) and never settled into any rhythm. The US had come with a pressing game and we fell right into their hands. They certainly had the better chances until our last late attacks, and we were fortunate that Altadore remembered everything he learned at Hull last season.
I’m part of the Guardian’s World Cup Fans’ Network, which is a lot of fun but in my case proved only that I can’t concentrate on the game and tweet at the same time. To my twitter followers not interested in football, I can only apologise for the assault on your in-boxes last night. Wasted here, though, because you won’t be reading this. Anyway, my England preview is still up there but has been cruelly manhandled. Just before I retire to the nearest garret, existing for the rest of my days suffering for my art, the original welcomed both Milner and Heskey into the team. Heskey did well as target man but you knew that run and shot was less the 5-1 against Germany and much more about his unerring ability to find the keeper. I also noted how many of the squad had been off-form, injured or both this season. MIlner was one of the few exceptions, until the tournament itself. Clearly he had not recovered from his illness. I wonder if in his understandable eagerness to play he minimised his condition to the medical staff.
Gerrard was excellent but he can’t be expected to do the job of two people, however hard he tries and often succeeds. Rooney grew increasingly frustrated as he was restricted to a central role. When he broke out of the shackles later, he became more influential but in coming deeper, no one took his place further forward.
Now to Spurs. Ledley King’s awareness, timing of his interceptions (you can’t really call them tackles) and his pace over ten yards equip him to excel at the highest level, where he deserves to be. In wanting so desperately for this to be his moment, where the nation and the world could at last join Spurs fans in marvelling at his quality and dedication, perhaps I had deluded myself into believing the legs are stronger than they are. The regular games at the end of our season weakened not strengthened those weary muscles and straining sinews. I feel for him. And for an England back four denied pace in the centre.
Lennon played well. He’s worked very hard on his distribution and decision-taking, the result being that he can take two men over to him as cover, then play a simple ball inside where others can exploit the resulting pace. There’s value here, as well as in him flying down the wing, but against the US he underestimated his ability to get past his man and should have done so more often. he used that burst of pace so well at times. His teamplay and passing were impressive for the most part.
It was an ideal situation for Crouch, coming on to face a Championship defender, but it was a pointless substitution because no one supported him. Two good headers were wasted because no one was near him in the box.
The noise, the infernal buzzing in my head, ceaseless, night and day, can’t think…. And that’s just my neighbour renovating his house. The best part of the World Cup, the giddy days of intoxicating optimism and heady solidarity before a ball has been kicked and it all goes wrong, it’s over. Back to reality. Hard graft rather inspiration is required to get out of a group, and we have enough of that to stagger into the next phase. Let’s march on together to inglorious defeat in the quarter finals.