Sunday, 13 June 2010

American Take-Away Turns England's Stomachs Green


A goalkeeping howler from Robert Green combined with a resilient defensive display from the USA continued the early trend in this World Cup for drawn games. Fulham's Clint Dempsey's speculative shot from outside the area squirmed through Green's gloves in the 40th minute and England were left frustrated in the second half, banging on the USA's door with increasing desperation for the winning goal.

The Americans however, would not budge an inch. While England's goalkeeper had a night he will want to forget, the U.S's Tim Howard showed why many feel that if he was English, there wouldn't have been a debate about who would be their last line of defence.

Knowing that this is likely to be their toughest group game, England roared out of the blocks with an ideal start. Emile Heskey laying a perfectly timed pass into the run of his captain Steven Gerrard. Gerrard made no mistake and England were one up inside five minutes.

England had been below par in their warm-up games, and coach Fabio Capello's main complaint with his charges had been a lack of urgency when defending in these games. England followed the game plan, closing down the Americans when in possession. However, as the first-half progressed, there was a worrying amount of possession for the underdogs. Wary of America's pace on the counter, England eschewed the option of pushing for the second goal. This resulted in an over-reliance on the long ball to Heskey. The Aston Villa man was magnificent throughout, but some of his more established team-mates, such as Frank Lampard & Wayne Rooney were often poor in possession, leading to the USA seeing plenty of the ball. England's Gareth Barry missed this game through injury, but will surely come right back into the side for their next match against Algeria. His ability to regulate the ball was sorely missed.

However, England's back four was solid throughout and bar a good chance for Jozy Altidore, they had kept the USA at arm's length. But as half-time appraoched, disaster struck. Capello had been toying with the notion of playing Manchester City's Joe Hart in goal ahead of Green. But the Italian came to the conclusion that this was too much of a high pressure game to throw in a greenhorn. It turned out that it was Green who failed to handle the pressure of the occasion, inexplicably letting Dempsey's tame 20 yarder spoon into the net off his right glove.

But credit must go to both Capello and the England players. They came out and raised the tempo in the second half. Heskey continued to be a perfect pivot for England's attacks. Despite the moronic post-match analysis from the BBC, Heskey was England's star man. While he did fail to convert a good one-on-one chance, what he gave the team far outweighed his profligacy. Remember, the first goal would not have been possible without him.

And in turn, we must also salute the Americans. As England became more dangerous in attack, their defence responded in kind. Oguchi Onewyu & Jay Demeritt were brave and focused in central defence, ably supported by their midfield shield of Michael Bradley & Ricardo Clark. And Landon Donovan & Jozy Altidore were a constant menace with their pace at the other end. Green made slight amends (and may have kept his place in the team) by tipping Altidore's shot onto the post after the former Hull striker had left Jamie Carragher for dead down the left hand side.

The draw is an excellent result for the U.S, but is by no means a disaster for England. While Slovenia's victory in their first game will ensure that this group will not be decided until the final round of matches, America & England are Group C's best two teams, and should still be the two to qualify for the Round of 16. But England can consider this a warning shot (I admit, I was tempted to use the phrase 'friendly fire'). If they intend to make an impact in this World Cup, their bigger names will have to come to the party. They have time to find their best games, but the hourglass is almost out of sand. Their nine lives are up. And while America earned this draw, a more ruthless England would still have beaten them. And it is this England that has to show up against Algeria on Friday.


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