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for a match where Engerland were out-thought, outplayed, out-passed, outclassed and generally outed as a pile of out of date clodhoofers, there were actually positive things we can take from the game.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.

What We Learnt From Spain vs Portugal (1-0)

Tippy Tappy Tikki Takka At Last

We’re at the halfway point, three and a half matches in, a little way into the second half and Iniesta finally gets the ball. He pivots, circles around, the ball trapped to his feet, blocking the way in for the two defenders around him, and passes the ball to the nearest Spaniard. And on it goes. They play it around the park, back to front, left to right. The Portuguese can’t buy the ball. Ronalda is totally isolated. He barely sees the ball for the rest of the World Cup. He goes back to Madrid and ignominy.

So after three games where it seemed as if Spain had had a complete crisis of confidence, they emerged back where they started, tippy tappy tikki takka chicken tikka masala. Bastards.

Like all the Second Round matches, bar the Argentina one and Engerland’s spastastic display against Germany, this was a dull, dull, dull, dull, dull match. Very few chances. Very little ambition from Ronalada and his Portuguese winkers. In fact, the most interesting thing to watch was Portugeezer Carlos Queroz, who is looking more and more like that John Travolta chap out of Saturday Night Fever. Except Carlos goes for a black outfit rather than the full on Bee-Gee-tastic white one. I said it was a shame that the two Second Round matches with Brazil and Spain weren’t intercontinental affairs and the familiarity Spain and Portugal have for one another’s football made this, like the Brazil Chile match, a bit tedious. I thought the Portuguese would defend better and have something more than a carthorse for a main attacking threat. But no. They had the Iberian Penninsula’s answer to Emile Heskey up front. Only he was worse than Heskey. Once they went a goal down, again thanks to a goalkeeping error and David Villa’s fast response, there was no way the Portuguese could get back in the game.

And the tikki takka began.

56 Down 8 To Go 8 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What About Them Second Rounds Then

Group Of Ease

Yeah, so one of Uruguay, South Korea, USA or Ghana is going to a World Cup semi-final. And, let’s face it, that should have been Engerland not USA in that list. Out of these I give the Koreans little or no chance, for while they have a great team with a couple of decent players, they’re up against Uruguay, who have the excellent Diego Forlorn, who seems to be one of the very few players not to have been overwhelmed by the scale of the World Cup and has actually seized control of and dominated games. I see Uruguay going right the way through to the semi. USA have a great team with a never say die attitude, but attitude aside all they really have to offer is Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and I’m not convinced. Ghana are a great strong passing side, who haven’t managed to score goals other than penalties so far. You can see them riding the wave of African euphoria, but they’re going to have trouble when they come up against a quality side.

Group Of Death

Forget any previous pussy, lame Groups of Death, this is the real thing. Germany, Engerland, Argentina and, well there’s always one, Mexico. For Engerland to get to the semis, we’re going to have to beat both the Germans and the Argies. If we get that far life will be very sweet indeed and we’ll probably only have to beat Spain and Brazil to win the big lump of gold. So no pressure there boys. If we want to win it, we’re going to have to do it the hard way. Heart says we go through and win, rational analysis says it’ll be the bloody Argies (again).

Group Of Football

With both Holland and Brazil, this should be a group of total football. Holland, I suspect have been playing a very cagey game and not really over-exerting themselves. Straight wins throughout their First Round matches means that they haven’t really been tested yet and I don’t see the conquerors of Italy, Slovakia, giving them any trouble at all. I think the Dutch will open with their wingmen and then we’ll see some football. Brazil and Chile should play off a great South American cup tie, but given Chile’s attack only policy and Brazil’s excellent defence I see Brazil wiping the floor with Chile’s poor quality defending. Brazil v Holland will be a cracking quarter final, which will provide Brazil with a really serious test, but this Brazil side is pretty formidable and, like the Dutch, just beginning to find their form. I see this as Brazil’s group.

Group Of Unexpected

Ideally, Spain and Chile should have switched groups, but they didn’t so this group has the Tweedledumb and Tweedledumberer match up of Spain and Portugal, in some ways it hardly matters which one of them comes through. Spain will have a tough game, they seem to have lost their way mentally and don’t know which direction to go in. Now true World Cup Champions always undergo some kind of transformation during the tournament, but the transformation Spain are undergoing is tortuous. Will they sacrifice the beautiful game that got them here for a pragmatic hoof and wingplay game we saw them trying before Chile gifted them the game? Portugal will be a hard test, they have a rock solid defence and are really hard to play against and when they’re in flow as they were against North Korea, they can’t half knock in the goals. I see Portugal going through. Paraguay and Japan will be a fantastic, open game, the Japanese will not give in and Paraguay are a decent team. This match should be a cracker and I see Portugal going out of this group.

The Semis

I see these being

Uruguay vs Engerland

Brazil vs Portugal

Can’t help being optimistic eh?

What We Learned From Group G Eliminators

Group of Death My Arse – Brazil 0 – 0 Portugal

When the Group of Death was originally announced, everyone thought that it would be the usual Group of Death malarkey, with teams rushing out of the blocks to inflict maximum pain on the small usually African or Asian nation unlucky enough to have been drawn with the three Big Boys. However, in this Group the only danger of death is of me dying of boredom, so vacuous and tepid was this encounter. Admittedly it wasn’t quite up to the thoroughly reprehensible standards set by the two most boring teams of all time Switzerland  and Ukraine in 2006 (and fuck me was that boring, by the end I was the only person left in the pub including the landlord), but it was way up to the standards set by the likes of Bolton, Blackburn, Hull etc. Quite how Brazil (Brazil for god’s sake) can be this unimaginative is a mystery, although they were without both Kaka, who was harshly sent off in their match with the Ivory Coast, and Elano, who wasn’t so much sent off as taken out of the game by the Ivorians. And, yes they were up against an extremely well-drilled Portuguese team, whose defensive record is pretty exemplary and whose version of the Mourinho Discipline is certainly a great deal more exciting than that of Switzerland. So you could say it was a stalemate of a game that was essentially a dead rubber to start with, the Portuguese destruction of North Korea meaning that Ivory Coast had to score approximately 10 to have any chance and still needed the Brazilians to beat the Portuguese. So, in some ways it was more predictable that this match should be a nil-nil than the Mexico Uruguay game. It’s just a shame that what could have been a classic turned into a turkey.

Meanwhile In The North Korean House Of Pain – Ivory Coast 3 – 0 North Korea

How disappointed are we in both these sorry excuses for teams. The North Koreans had the virtue of being an unknown quantity and were determined and plucky against Brazil, but then fell apart against Portugal, who could have spanked them for a hell of a lot more than the seven they put past them. Unfortunately for North Korea the tactics of unrestrained totalitarian dictatorship don’t translate very effectively from the gulag to the football pitch. Unfortunately for the Ivory Coast the joys of military dictatorship don’t inspire the best in a football team. You have to feel that this is probably the end of the road for the World Cup hopes of the Drog, the Toure brothers and the rest of this generation of Ivorians.

So Bye-Bye North Korea And Ivory Coast

For you, this was the group of death.

46 Down 18 To Go 17 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Portugal vs North Korea (7-0)

That Old Skool Communism Thing Doesn’t Have the Same Old Ring

Now when we said that Portugal were led by a crying, mewling showpony and that North Korea were a well disciplined, effective side capable of giving the Portuguese a game, we were, obviously mistaken. Today the Portugeezers turned off the indifference and turned on the charm, while the plucky Maoists gave it their best for approximately 25 minutes before being consummately overwhelmed. And so, we reluctantly realise (yet again) that while spirit and passion are essential, they will only get you so far, which in this case really isn’t very far at all and are no substitute for skill and experience. Despite Germany’s slapdown of Oztralia, this was the first real World Cup pasting of the tournament.

Like An Episode Of White Horses

Yes that old black and white TV show about Lipizzaner horses with the catchiest theme tune in history. And the Portugeezers were the showponies. They showed exactly how you should overcome the Mourinho Discipline, fast counterattacking movements led by clever running down the channels and effective use of the width of the pitch, their first goal being a fantastic example of how to break from the centre into the box, thereby creating an extra man and pulling the central defenders out of position. The entire second half was essentially an episode of Portuguese attack vs North Korean defence. By the end you felt that the Koreans would have preferred to spend the time digging trenches for the North Korean army rather than repeat the pummelling they received on the pitch.

This Sets Up The Group

So Brazil are through and North Korea are out and Portugal and Ivory Coast know what they have to do and it’s looking a little harsh of the Ivorians. They need a win against North Korea and for Portugal to lose to Brazil with a nine goal turnaround to have any chance of making it through to the Knockout Stages. Harsh.

30 Down 34 To Go 30 Teams Remaining