Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What is wrong with England

The England team that we all know has an abundance of talent. Except for Owen Hargreaves and David Beckham, we see the rest of them week in and week out plying their trade for their respective clubs and impressing us with their fluid football. Yet, when their coach Eriksson pulls them together as a team, their football is patchy at best. Why is this so? Why are they riddled with problems in the World Cup and playing way below par? Not only do they have their fans in England to answer to, they have millions of fans worldwide who are so used to the high quality football that the country's league produce that they are left now scratching their heads and wondering why England can't reproduce the same quality. If indeed England want to win the World Cup come July 10, the real England needs to stand up. No more hiding behind close quarters and consoling themselves that this is their year. If that is so, we need to see proof on the field.

If you are wondering what all the fuss is about England this World Cup. Allow me to fill you in with the details. England has been an absolute bore. Winning their two opening games in the World Cup has been nothing impressive. They struggled against the likes of Paraguay and when the world thought that the game against Trinidad and Tobago would be a redemption, they fell flat on their faces and relied on two late goals from Crouch and Gerrard to secure the victory.

Seriously, this has been a really lacklustre England side which has depended on the frugality of it's opponents rather then their own merits to secure victories. And their listlessness boils down to a few reasons.

Firstly, it is the question of Michael Owen. Is he fit? I hardly think so. He never got a sniff in the last two matches he played and was subsequently substituted out early in the second half. His pace that once electrified the world has mysteriously deserted him and his finishing has also became a suspect. I guess it will be unwise for Eriksson to continue playing him when he has a loss of form. And if England want to truly play to it's fullest potential, Owen must be the first to go.

Secondly, the much touted partnership of Gerrard and Lampard has failed to materialize time and time again. Both perform attacking roles for their respective clubs but playing alongside each other for the country meant that either one had to curb their attacking instincts and do some defensive work. In this case, Gerrard being the better performer defensively sacrificed himself. Hence, the awkwardness everytime the two of them play together for England. One of them has to be dropped and judging from the performance so far in this World Cup, it is Lampard. For all his accuracy and long range shooting for his club, it has been sorely lacking for his country. What England has is a Lampard bereft of confidence and ideas to pry open stubborn defences and create space for his famous long range shots. Where Lampard has failed, Gerrard has succeeded as his brilliant strike against Trinidad and Tobago made the score respectable for England. So for the sake of England, Lampard should go as well.

Lastly, it is the tactics that Eriksson employ. Frustrating at times and plain boring everytime, England fans are known for preferring watching grass grow to England matches. For 5 million a year, England has hired a coach that has failed to understand what 'The Beautiful Game' means. Languid, scrappy and sloppy are not adjectives in the dictionary of 'The Beautiful Game'. The overly cautious coach never fully utilizes the true potential of a world class midfield that consist of Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Cole. While proclaiming that the four are the best that any team could have, reality shows that the four can never play to their best as long as they are constrained in the restrictive tactics that Eriksson use.

His lack of courage in dropping the star players that cannot perform is disappointing as well.
Without fail, Beckham, Owen, Lampard and Ferdinand are on his starting eleven although they may lack form at times. Unlike Aragones of Spain who dropped the misfiring Raul, Eriksson can't bring himself to do the same as he believes that these star players will and can deliver something special when the chips are down. That is where he is wrong as his star players are now over the top and behaving like it is their right to be in the team. And we all know how that will affect England's performance.

Yet, there are some bright sparks in the England team with the likes of Beckham finally playing to his forte. So often the England captain has attempted new roles with disastrous effect but he has finally decided to go back to what he does best, whipping in his dangerous crosses and free kicks. His specialty has resulted in two of the three goals that England has scored so far in this World Cup.

Surprisingly, England's defence has also held up very well as they have kept clean sheets in the first two games. Granted that their opponents were Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago but it looks like the backline can't put a foot wrong and we all know how essential that is to the foundation of a great team.

Nevertheless, England's performances so far has been less than awe-inspiring. If they really believe that they can win the World Cup, they have to make the likes of Spain and Argentina their yardstick and see how far they really are from them. Judging from the performance now, England's struggle to beat even the likes of Trinidad and Tobago will cost them as they will be ripped apart by a more worthy opponent.

So if England really hope to win this tournament, they must ask themselves these questions. Are we playing to our full potential? Are we making full use of our attacking talents? Are we having deadweights in our team that will only serve to bring us backwards instead of forward? Are we truly determined to win the World Cup this year? If the answers is yes to all of the above, then the spectators need to see it on the pitch and not through plain words on the newspapers.

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