Sunday, 27 June 2010

Possession Holds The Key As Naive England Embarrassed

By Shane Thomas


England were on the receiving end of a harsh footballing lesson as they received a chastening 4-1 defeat to Germany. In what was England's heaviest defeat in World Cup football, it was England's experienced players who looked callow and mentally fragile, while Germany were assured and organised. It was the Germans who carried out their manager's instructions to the letter.
I shudder to think how the British tabloids are going to mock up a picture of Fabio Capello tomorrow. But while the accountability lies with the coach, his players have severely let him down in South Africa. I wrote yesterday that England needed to press the ball high up the pitch, and deny Bastian Schweinsteiger space to control the game. With the exception of a 20 minute spell either side of half-time, England failed to carry out this simple task and were mercilessly dismantled as a result.

With Schweinsteiger running the show, Mesut Ozil and the brilliant Thomas Muller had plenty of the ball with which to threaten. Ozil and Muller constantly switched positions and this was typical of Germany's attacking fluidity throughout the match. And when Ozil and Muller have the ball, you can be sure that it will soon find it's way to Miroslav Klose up front. Throughout Germany were like a sleek, speedy convertible, while England resembled a cumbersome, leaden footed HGV.

Given that Germany were comfortably finding gaps in between England's defence and midfield, they hardly needed help to find the net, but England gave them an assist anyway. A straight goal kick down the middle from Manuel Neuer was misjudged by John Terry, this was compounded by Matthew Upson reacting to the loose ball with an alarming lack of awareness. Klose burst through and gave Germany a deserved lead.

This failed to stir England out of their stupor, and woeful defending from the entire team led to Germany's second. A move started by Schweinsteiger and finished by Lukas Podolski. At no point was a red shirt within five yards of a white one. England's inexplicable ability to pressure Schweinsteiger led to a domino effect with every England player being pulled out of position having to cover the man to their left. This left Podolski in oceans of space and he fired through David James's legs to make it 2-0.

James also had to make two good saves to keep the contest alive, and against the run of play, England gave themselves hope. After a short corner, Steven Gerrard crossed from the right, and as the German defence went to sleep, Upson headed in to make it 2-1. England briefly rallied, and for a 20 minute spell they hassled Germany into making mistakes and looked like they could even equalise. But with the exception of a Frank Lampard free-kick hitting the bar, they never really threatened the German goal. Neuer was solid but never actually tested.

The match statistics are a damning indictment of England's performance as they had more possession and shots, but failed to do a great deal with it. Ignore the reactionary rhetoric that you will soon hear about the England players. Their ability is not an issue. But the ability to execute the skills needed to win important games are. Once again, England fell short of the required mental standard at the highest level, playing with plenty of effort but no game savvy. Impatient in possession, naive defensively, and a worrying inability to adjust to the ever changing situation of a match. Germany were the exact opposite, playing with nous, passing intelligently even when put under pressure, and always looked in control of the pattern of the game.

The nadir was reached when England foolishly overcommitted men forwards with plenty of time remaining. Their failure to keep the ball meant that Germany had little problem in winning it back and hitting England on the counter-attack. Muller scoring twice as England were outnumbered.

The inquest will begin. But the simple fact is that England failed to respond to the demands of tournament football. The World Cup is the sport's grandest stage. It inspires some and subdues others. England were cowed. As a team, there was a collective shortcoming to take the responsibility to show their best standard of play. Therefore, it's a good thing that England have been sent home. Forget partisanship, I don't want to see a sub-standard side stinking up the World Cup. Yesterday I wrote that whichever side won the midfield battle would win this game. Germany won the battle. Germany won the game.

And whisper it, but while Germany were impressive, this was not a mind-blowing performance. They executed the basics and were ruthless on the ball. That's the minimum requirement of any good side. They go on to the quarter-finals to a potential meeting with Argentina. And with the greatest of respect to Mexico, I dearly hope that Argentina beat them in their last 16 contest later tonight. Argentina against Germany could be a feast of attacking football. Add to that both teams are far from secure defensively and we could be looking at the game of the World Cup.

P.S. There was also a moment in the game when Frank Lampard scored a legitimate goal that crossed the line when the score was 2-1, but the officials failed to award the goal. I empathise with the referee as he was a good way away. The linesman on the other hand can only use the excuse of incompetence as a defence. Okay, I've mentioned it now. But anyone that uses that as an excuse for England's defeat is worryingly blinkered and should watch the game again. Germany didn't win due to favourable decision making. They won because they were the markedly better side. They didn't need poor officiating to make England look ordinary. I don't want to hear any bellyaching about that decision again. Given the hammering dished out by the Germans, all English fans would do well to keep their head down and stay quiet.

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