The build up to the World Cup seems to get bigger every time for England fans. Everywhere around me there seem to be more and bigger flags, and no-one it appears can escape it. England expects… but expects what? Well, for the more discerning fan, England expects to get knocked out around the quarter-final stage, and Saturday’s draw with the USA – a team with a decent pedigree to be sure but not expected to come close to winning the tournament – certainly gave no reasons to change that view.
It all started so well, when Gerrard scored with a neat finish inside the first five minutes, but really that was about as good as it got. The big story of course has been Robert Green’s howler that allowed the USA to level the scores – but the reality for those watching is that the flaws in the performance of the team as a whole suggest that this is still not going to be our year.
Starting at the back, England still don’t seem to know who their best goalkeeper is – and the reality is that the candidates we have are not outstanding. In defence, England’s central partnership (certainly once King went off) looked vulnerable to the sort of pacy forward that a number of the better teams will be able to deploy – the save Green made (and it was a good one) was necessary almost entirely because the lack of pace of Carragher in particular was exposed. Ashley Cole was kept busy marking the US’s speedy winger, and that had a knock-on effect on the England attack.
In midfield, while the partnership of Gerrard and Lampard didn’t look too troubled I didn’t feel that they provided enough of a spark. To be honest, I didn’t think much to Lampard’s performance – and while Gerrard put himself about more, you’d hope that he can do better too. On the left, England showed that they still don’t really have a quality wide player who is naturally left footed; Wright-Phillips when he came on was to be honest frustrating, getting into some decent places but then almost every time running the ball out of play or losing it to a defender. On the other side, Lennon used his pace very effectively, but seemed to deliver most crosses behind the forwards which was something of a waste.
Rooney and Heskey did OK, but although Heskey’s all-round play was fine his confidence in front of goal seemed to have gone – can we really afford to play a striker who links up play well but offers little direct goal threat?
The performance raised more questions than it answered, and that immediately raises doubts about England’s prospects for the tournament.
Finally though, spare a thought for Adrian Chiles. There he was, anchoring live football instead of highlights and discovering it to be a different kettle of fish; then, come half time, he was having to apologise for ITV HD viewers missing the England Goal – ITV shooting itself in the foot, in High Definition at that. He must have been ruing the day he ever left Auntie Beeb…..