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The Antagonist - England are a long way from world-beaters

Published: 25 Jun 2010 - 10:30:12

Well, with apologies to Frank Sinatra, 'We did what we had to do and did it our way'.

Our way, of course, is not the straightforward path everyone predicted when the draw was made - but an all too familiar agonising, painful experience spread over four and a half excruciating hours with ultimate qualification only absolutely nailed on as Herr Stark blew his final whistle in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.

We have been there before and, no doubt, we will go there again before this tournament is over.

With England, the road is never easy and, in coming second in the group, we have potentially lined up Germany, Argentina, Spain and, finally Brazil, as our hazardous route to World Cup glory.

To borrow and adapt a phrase from Masterchef, 'Football doesn't get much tougher than this'.

Now I don't want to be a spoilsport and ruin a rare moment of national footballing euphoria but, some of the comments I have heard since Wednesday, reminded me of the nonsense that was being spouted before the tournament started.

'Back to our best'; 'Now we can go on and win it'; 'We'll stuff the Germans' were just a few of the ill judged, over-the-top comments I heard on a radio phone in as I drove home after watching the match.

Like every other fanatical England supporter, I was hugely relieved that we weren't following the bickering French and the uninspiring Italians back home with our tails between our legs but, at the same time, I am level-headed enough to know that, despite a marked improvement in individual performances and tactical application, we are, at the moment, still falling well below the standards set by the top teams in this tournament.

There were moments on Wednesday when England's passing became sharper, the movement off the ball slicker and the players' confidence in their own ability more evident than in the previous two matches. They still struggled, however, to conclusively put away a side who, despite showing great spirit and endeavour, should really still have been a class or 10 below our boys.

Like Algeria and the USA before them, Slovenia should have been dispatched comprehensively if we have any real pretence to go on and win this competition.

Putting it into perspective, as one of the pre-tournament favourites, we have played three teams ranked 14th, 25th and 30th in the world and have only managed to score twice.

Defensively, Rob Green's gaffe aside, we have acquitted ourselves reasonably well but will almost certainly face much sterner tests from now on when, despite the last ditch heroics of John Terry and Matthew Upson against Slovenia, our lack of pace through the centre may be sorely tested.

Perhaps we are all fooling ourselves when we talk about the world-class players in our team. Apart from maybe Steve Gerrard and Ashley Cole , no other Englishman has put himself anywhere near this category so far.

Most worryingly, the man around who all our hopes have been built, Wayne Rooney, despite a small improvement on Wednesday, is still playing a bit like a man whose boots are full of lead rather than the bustling, jack in the box we have come to know and love.

Still, let's enjoy the moment because, once again the 'typical Germans' as Alex Ferguson would have it, stand in our way of further progress. The only consolation is that this German side, despite playing with gusto, exuberance and, unusually, flair and daring, are also young and relatively inexperienced.

As we saw in the Serbia match, sometimes youthfulness can harbour a certain naivety which can work against you. Let's hope that this bubbles to the surface again on Sunday and then we are in with a chance.

They are undoubtedly beatable but we have to crank it up another notch from the Slovenia performance, get a few more of our main men firing on all cylinders and then, just maybe, we can start realistically talking about the ultimate dream again.

Oh...And let's not forget to keep practising our penalties. History tells us we just might need them!

PS Fabio still can't get it quite right can he? Someone should tell him that, in England, the culture is to have a few beers after a game not the night before. No wonder several of the boys' legs seemed to turn to jelly in the last five minutes. 'Lager legs' we used to call it.

Put him right Psycho!

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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