International Football: Engerland 1 – 0 Belgium

Petulant, Vindictive, Ugly – Football The Belgian Way

Dirty Plotte Dries Mertens gives Gary Cahill the "hurry up", breaking his jaw in the process

Oooof! (as opposed to ‘hoof!’) take that you slow moving defensive laggard, with your sneaky ball protecting, keeper covering pig-english ways. And take that supposedly world class keeper with you when you finally go to ground. That I imagine is the thought process that was going through spikey Belgian twat Dries Merten’s mind as he propelled Gary Cahill into an onrushing Joe Hart and spectacularly managed to break Cahill’s jaw. Nicely done fella and have a very generous yellow card for your trouble.

I was looking forward to seeing Hodgson’s Hoofers up against one of the most lauded teams in Europe. Yet the team that contains Kompany (who was injured), Vermaelen, Vertongen, Fellaini, Dembele and Euro wonderkid Edin Hazard was epitomised by Mertens’ behaviour. For a team supposed to be all about great football, they don’t half play dirty.

Aside from Mertens, Dembele seemed to think that having your hands nipple-gripping your opponent from behind was a legitimate tackling maneuver, and the ref seemed to believe that, given this was a ‘friendly’, he should let all sorts of dubious fouling go. Besides their propensity to foul first, the Belgians really didn’t offer much, having few genuinely dangerous moments, one long speculative effort from Vertongen aside. And I suppose that was as much a testament to Roy’s team management and shape as it was to the Belgians’ realisation that buggery bollocks they weren’t going to the Euros and this was their last game before holiday time. Still I was really disappointed at their spiteful behaviour.

The Happy Hoofers haven’t really progressed much in the week or so they’ve been together since the Norway match. Gerrard and Parker in midfield still look unable to string even a pass together, while Ashley Young remains fundamentally lightweight, receiving the ball all too rarely and not making great use of it when he does. And overall there seems to be no clear concept of how to use the ball in those rare instances when they actually have possession.

Still today it was all about the defenders and they took a right pummelling, Cahill becoming merely the latest Engerland defender to go from first choice to stretcher case in less than 45 minutes, but Terry, Lescott and Jagielka were all in the wars. And while you have to admire the way the entire team restricted Belgium to fewer chances than the Norwegians managed last week, their forward moving efforts were utterly uninspiring.

Engerland’s goal, when it came, was as surprising as it was clinical. Welbeck, who had a fine game, dispossessed Dembele in the middle of the field and exchanged passes with Young, before running in on goal and delightfully chipping the onrushing Mignolet. It was so unexpected and so far above the standard of play generally that the crowd took a couple of seconds to actually realise what was going on.

The second half was tedium incarnate. A deluge of substitutions revealed only two things. First, Edin Hazard is going to have to play a hell of a lot better than he did if he’s going to justify the £32 million he’s just cost Chelsea. He was utterly anonymous, playing mainly sideways, with little indication of the skills that have made him the French player of the year for the last two years. Second, Jordan Henderson must be the luckiest man in football. Utterly anonymous for Liverpool for the entire season, fundamentally anonymous for Sunderland previously, he’s now received a full Engerland call up and looks likely to be a major player in the midfield. He came on and, true to form, was largely anonymous, having as close to zero touches as it’s possible to have and made absolutely no impact on the game. Still, looking at Hazard one can only assume that Henderson’s value has been enhanced significantly as a result.

What We Learned From Engerland vs France (1-2)

There Were Positives

Andy Carroll hurrumphs his way past two of the French, sadly to no avail

Impressively for a match where Engerland were out-thought, outplayed, out-passed, outclassed and generally outed as a pile of out of date clodhoofers, there were actually positive things we can take from the game. It was, for instance, good that Engerland played a largely young and experimental side in a friendly that fundamentally wasn’t about the result but about the way we got there. It was exactly the right place to try out the likes of Carroll, Henderson, Young and Gibbs to see if they could step up from the Under 21 squad; it was exactly the right place to see whether certain semi-established players like Barry, Milner, Adam Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Walcott, and Foster were capable of raising their game and dominating their position; and it was exactly the right place to test whether the big players, Ferdinand and Gerrard still had it in them to be genuinely world class. It was the right place to test out Crapello’s tactics and gameplan against a side that, while also rebuilding, brought a level of skill and ability that Engerland can only aspire to.

Shame Shit Different Day

Sadly, Engerland flunked pretty much all the tests. As a whole, the team performed with a tactical naivety and incompetence that will see them swiftly eliminated from any serious championship, assuming always that the flaws are not so great that we actually make it that far. It was the same sorry story we saw recently against Montenegro and so many other matches before then.

An inability to accurately pass the ball to a colleague, an inability to effectively control balls lumped up from the back, an inability to work the ball through midfield, failure of movement off the ball, failure of ambition. In fact a general level of failure that was utterly depressing.

There. I’ve said it before and so it was again. To all that can be added a total lack of pressure off the ball when the opposition has possession. France were given this game by an Engerland side seemingly content to hoof-n-hope it to them every time it had possession, and happy to let the French midfield advance to the edge of the area before beginning to put them under any kind of pressure. It was almost as if they’d been told there was a 3 metre exclusion zone around the French players. You don’t win games by only beginning to impose yourself in your own penalty area.

Tactically, We Don’t Have A Clue

Tactics are the manager’s responsibility. He sets the shape of the team and dictates how it plays. Crapello seems to set his sides up as 4-3-3 or possibly 4-4-1-1, but it’s abundantly clear that this isn’t how Engerland play. When we have the ball we play a mysterious 4-0-1 formation whereby the entire midfield goes missing and balls are artlessly hoofed to the ‘big man’ at the front who is magically supposed to do something with it (and inevitably fails), while when we’re defending we crumple to a 9-0-1 formation lining up like compliant little mice on the edge of our area ceding possession and initiative to the opposing team.

Now, unless he is clinically insane, stupid or diabolical enough to actually want Engerland to lose, there’s no way Crapello actually sets up the team to play this way. He’s intelligent enough to realise that you can’t play playground hoofstyle and expect to win anything more elevated than the Johnson’s Paint Trophy (and that’s probably an insult to the Johnson’s Paint Trophy). You win international matches by retaining possession and passing the ball to feet. Sure the occasional long pass works, but the percentages are against you. That’s why when they do work they look impressive. But, fundamentally, they’re best played against slower sides who maintain a high defensive line. Not against the French.

Somewhere between Crapello’s mouth and the players’ brains something goes horribly, horribly wrong. At some point in the first five minutes of the match everything they’ve discussed gets lost. You can almost see it happening. During the first two or possibly five minutes of an international Engerland play genuinely international class football. We pass the ball to feet when we have possession (admittedly not that well and usually just around the back four) and we press the opposition when we don’t to try and recover the ball. Then, suddenly, it’s gone. The first judders of fear appear, confidence evaporates and we start hoofing it all over the shop. From then on we are merely reacting to events rather than instigating them.

On the showing of the first half Engerland were lucky to emerge with naught. We created nothing, barely got the ball beyond the halfway line and, if we did, it quickly cannoned back to the French. They displayed neat, intelligent interplay, primarily orchestrated by Nasri and Malouda, who don’t seem to have become incompetent simply because they play in the Premiership. The goal, a sweet piece of defence splitting interplay between Malouda and Benzema (who can’t buy an appearance never mind a goal against Spanish defences), simply illustrated the gulf in class between the sides.

The second half was marginally better, if only because the French sat back and relaxed, had some lunch, admired the beauty that is Wemberley Stadium, did some shopping and only vaguely bothered to attend to the pestilence that was the Engerland team. Sure they were still bothered enough to ‘get a spare’ when Sagna, who also doesn’t seem to have become useless by playing in England, trotted down the right and crossed the ball into the box. It helped that there were two attacking midfielders there to turn the ball in (more than Engerland accomplished in total on the night) and that Lescott was painfully out of position.

Did Anyone Emerge With Credit?

Well, the new boys will have learnt a lot.

Carroll will have learnt that, like Crouch, his very height and size count against him at this level, playing in to the worst tendencies of the English mindset. Because he’s tall let’s just lob balls aimlessly at him because he’s bound to be able to keep possession in that physical English way that never works internationally. Let’s not give him beautiful passes to run on to, or support him in any way. Hell let’s try not even having anyone else in the same half as him when we fling balls at him as hard as we possibly can, then blame him when he can’t create any chances. He will have learnt that the England no 9 is a lonely space where you don’t even have the luxury of harrying about trying to win possession. You are the point of a spear whose staff has gone missing.

Gibbs will have learnt that he’s not quite in Ashley Cole’s class just yet. However, he was left with no defensive cover from either Milner or Lescott when Sagna overlapped him and ran in to cross for the second. To be honest he had no defensive support all evening. As he showed on his previous Engerland outing he’s an accomplished left back and great cover for Cole, but he’s not genuinely international class.

Henderson, however, will be ruing his call up. He had a miserable evening in total contrast to his performance against Chelsea only 4 days previously. As a defensive midfielder he was playing in the celebrated Makelélé position, or in the English vocabulary the Hargreaves role, and he struggled. The French, being sneaky, simply played sightly ahead of him or between him and the back four. Meanwhile Engerland proceeded to sabotage his evening by not passing to him and on the rare occasions when he did have the ball by not giving him any passing options (about the only thing they did effectively all evening). He will go back to the Under 21s where he’s genuinely appreciated for their European Championships next year but could return to Engerland for 2012. Given he’s probably going to go to Man United sometime soon he’s definitely one for the future.

Ashley Young, who’s been on the periphery of the squad won’t have done his chances any harm by coming on in the second half. In contrast to Walcott, who still seems impotent at this level as a wide man and was starved of service, Young harried more and did more with the ball when he had possession. With some help from midfield and support up front he might actually have caused the French a problem.

The middleweights pretty much all flunked out. None of Walcott, Milner, Jagielka, Lescott or Barry did anything to enhance their reputations. Barry in particular is looking like a total waste of space. It’s unclear what role he performs and he doesn’t seem to be making any kind of contribution to the side. Walcott and Milner were both starved of service from defence and support in midfield. And when they did get forward to support Carroll there seemed to be no connection or understanding between them, Walcott would be looking for the Arsenal pass, while Milner would be trying to Man City it. Lescott provided no support to his flanks and was ineffective. Jagielka was much better when played as a central defender (his normal position) rather than as a right back.

Stevie G had what for him is becoming a normal Engerland performance. He was rubbish. He didn’t stabilise midfield, didn’t support going forward and was most notable for his continued tendency to attempt the 40 yard ‘hail mary’ pass at every opportunity, gifting possession back to the French on pretty much each occasion. No style, quality or leadership.

Franz Ferdinand was possibly the only player to have come out of this without a damaged reputation. He was merely adequate, doing what he was supposed to with the minimum of skill. However, he was also responsible for the hoof-n-hope tendency, far too often playing long balls out of defence rather than trying to play down the middle.

Adam Johnson showed a disturbing tendency to believe his own hype by trying to win the game singlehanded when a pass to a teammate might have been preferable. Richards added more attack when he was played, correctly, at right back. His work with Johnson on the right showing what Man City might achieve there if only they were both being played regularly.

And Crouch showed what everyone has suspected for a while, he’s got a great touch for a big guy. Which only goes to reiterate pretty much everything that’s wrong about the Engerland mentality. In that strange world they call home and we call ‘Abroad’, they’d simply say he’s got a great touch.

It Was A Great Game For

Jack Wilshere. Missing through injury he might almost have played himself into the heart of the Engerland midfield.

And Let’s Not Forget

Spain, the World Champions, played a friendly as well. They lost 4-0 to Portugal.