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The Antagonist - England fans find perspective

Published: 18 Jun 2010 - 07:10:04

As England prepare to take on Algeria tonight, a sense of perspective has gradually seeped into our supporters' grey matter after the gross over reaction across the nation last weekend.

This reality check has largely been the result of witnessing many of the ensuing group matches which clearly indicated that, maybe, Australia apart, there are no push overs in this World Cup.

If Emile Heskey had shown a bit more composure when he had a one-on-one with Tim Howard in the USA goal, we would have been sitting on a 2-1 victory with three precious points in the bag and my pre-match prediction of England winning by one or two goals and Heskey scoring would not have been mercilessly pilloried by readers of this blog.

All would have been rosy in the English garden.

As it was, a draw was deemed unacceptable; the performance totally inept.

Unfortunately, when expectations are set too high what would, under normal circumstances, have been considered reasonable is viewed as disastrous and, all of a sudden, in our minds, England are transformed from potential champions to first-round fall guys.

A draw against a side only six places below us in the FIFA rankings is surely not a case for national mourning?

How do you think the Spanish public felt losing to a side 22 places below them or even the Portuguese with their team drawing with a side 24 places below them?

Of course we (or some of us) have been here many times before, most notably in the glorious 1966 campaign when our boys struggled to a dire 0-0 draw with Uruguay in their opening group game and were written off as no hopers by the national press.

Bobby Robson's team of 1990, who lost gallantly to Germany in a semi-final penalty shoot out, also had their travails in the group stages, struggling to draws against the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands before scraping through with a 1-0 victory over Egypt.

I said last week that a draw would not be a disaster and I stick by that. A high-scoring win against Algeria would more or less cement our passage to the last 16 although, by my calculations, win, lose or draw, we cannot mathematically progress or be eliminated before the final set of matches.

There is, however, much room for individual improvement.

We can make excuses for Wayne Rooney, (lack of support, poor service etc) but, to be candid, by his usually high standards, he had a bit of a 'mare' on Saturday. If he is to have a partner up front he needs to play off him not isolate himself. Heskey, on the other hand, excelled himself. He did everything that could have been expected from a player of limited international ability, but on this rare occasion was let down by his partner.

Heskey good, Rooney bad. I never thought that I would be writing that before the tournament started.

However, in my opinion, it was the confused tactical approach to the game that was largely culpable for the under-par performance and it left me baffled.

How many games does it take to prove that Frank Lampard and Steve Gerrard cannot play together in the centre of midfield? Eriksson, McClaren and now Capello have all tried and failed miserably; apparently unable to appreciate that neither can operate effectively without a holding player alongside them as they both have when they play centrally for their club sides.

Despite Gerrard's cavaliering forays into the US box and the well taken opening goal, we clearly conceded first half midfield control to our opponents and, throughout, Lampard looked a shadow of his Chelsea self.

Similarly, the substitution of James Milner for Wright-Phillips in left midfield rendered me speechless. For a start SWP is completely right footed which means that virtually every time he received the ball he shifted it onto his favoured 'peg' and headed infield. Great if you are a defender. Shovel him into an area packed with defenders and let him disappear, admittedly at close to the speed of sound, up his own wotsit.

His lack of defensive nous also meant that Ashley Cole, who is usually a very adroit attacking full back, hardly crossed the half way line in the second half, no doubt concerned about the lack of cover if he did.

Surely the situation cried out for Joe Cole to be given a run. He is fresh, imaginative and creative: three qualities patently sadly lacking in the other incumbents on Saturday.

Of course, despite these tactical faux pas, ultimately it was poor old Greeny's giant gaffe that cost us the game and led to the wailing and weeping throughout the land. Whether or not he gets the chance to achieve redemption is within the gift of Capello. Although he wouldn't have been my choice in the first place, I hope he is selected and manages to exorcise the ghost that will otherwise haunt him for the rest of his playing days.

Then I would thank him very much and stick him on the bench for the rest of the tournament.

And my prediction for tonight?

At the risk of developing a reputation as a false prophet and opening myself up to ridicule once again, I foresee a comfortable victory for England, leading ultimately to last-16 qualification and a volte face in the mood of the nation.

But then, as we've seen before, what do I know?

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DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the antagonist
Love him or loathe him you cannot ignore the Antagonist. His Friday blog tackles the big issues in our game today in an abrasive, often controversial style. He goes where others fear to tread. From wages to wags, diving to drugs - no subject is "off limits", no individual beyond reproach. Miss him at your peril!

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