WC2014 Switzerland 2 – 1 Ecuador

I tell you that offside decision was 100% wrong. We should have had 3

I tell you that offside decision was 100% wrong. We should have had 3

Not Even The Swiss Can Stem The Tide

The Swiss. Long the most tedious nation in the footballing world. Host to the parasitic gerontocrats of FIFA. A nation with nothing to console itself with but the limitless black holes of its banking system and holey cheese that is not quite as nice as Jarlesburg. Damned by not one, not two, but three tournaments of stultifyingly tortuous soccerplay. The Swiss are simply too timid to be allowed in the Biggest Cup of All.


What We Learned From Engerland vs Switzerland (2-2)

The three testicalled scrotum that is the Euro 2012 logo. Two countries separated by football.

That Blockage Is Back

Sadly for Englerland, they seem to have become the last bastion of the sclerosis that is slowly being purged from the Prem. It’s the same as it ever was, nothing is moving. Certainly not the players who are slowly but surely fading into obscurity, the so-called Golden Generation of Terry, Ferdinand and Lampard, who’ve done nothing and won nothing,  don’t look like doing anything to surprise us (except retire) in the future. Certainly not the tactics, which seem as comprehensively stuck in the pre-1960 era of physical supremacy on unplayable pitches as ever. Yes this Engerland team is as constipated as ever.

What Do You Call A Person Who Keeps Trying The Same Failing Strategy While Expecting A Different Result? Aside From Stupid Obviously

[pullthis]”You in England,” said Barcelona’s Helenio Herrera, “are playing in the style we continentals used so many years ago, with much physical strength, but no method, no technique.“[/pullthis] Admittedly he did say this in 1960 and so has come in a bit late to the party, but he does have a point.

Last month has seen 3 serious matches at Wembley, a turgid FA Cup Final, a brilliant Champions League Final and this Euro 2012 Qualifier. Of these, this was by far the worst, the least watchable, the least tactically aware and the least entertaining. And while Barcelona played such spectacular football they made Man U look like Stoke and Stoke were ground down by the Man City mincer, England were simply impaled on their own failings against a Swiss side that barely look capable of beating anyone yet were 2-0 up before half time.

Engerland Are Hamstrung By Two Factors.

[pullshow]First, the English style of kick n run/hoof and hope football is stunningly inefficient, hopelessly outdated and far too easy to beat. It encourages players to almost shun possession, rewarding those who get rid of the ball early, while punishing those who show any desire to hold the ball or competence in control. It might be vaguely acceptable as a style of play if it occasionally worked, but it’s safe to say that the most Engerland gained from any hoof was a Swiss throw in on their 20 yard line. Not one move of any significance resulted from this oafish play. Sure we might marvel that Terry or Ferdinand has the ability to artfully lob a ball 40+ yards over the shoulder of a lumbering teammate and cede possession to the Swiss, but it’s kind of a futile appreciation. Indeed both Engerland’s goals and all their scoring opportunities were the result of moves where the ball was largely passed on the ground. In this way Engerland repeated the same tactical flaws that cost Man U and Stoke their matches – a wide midfield that was largely bypassed by long, aimless balls punted upfield to heavily marked and isolated strikers, who were unable to receive the ball and immediately sacrificed possession. It’s safe to say that Switzerland were never troubled with the ball over the head of the defence.

Second it’s clear that the Prem (or the hoof n hope style it imposes) takes it’s toll out of players far more than other leagues. None of the English players looked fit or in form and the overwhelming impression was of a bunch of overworked, exhausted carthorses who fundamentally couldn’t keep it up for one last 90 minutes. It’s hard to tell whether this is a failing of the English physique or the Prem, seeing as all the Engerland players play in the Prem, while only the Swiss central defence of Djourou and Senderos do. And while the latter were poor, they didn’t really have a lot to cope with.

Now, being positive, it’s good that we’ve identified (confirmed?) these flaws, not least because they are fundamentally fixable. Although there is no clear evidence that they will actually be addressed. But it’s clear that nothing will change until they are.

Hell No, We Won’t Go (For Change)

And it’s strange that there should be such reluctance to change. After all Engerland’s only significant win, the 1966 World Cup, came after Engerland adapted their tactical style from a 4-2-4 to a 4-3-3, bringing the concept of Ramsey’s wingless wonders into play. Our refusal since then to adapt from the 4-4-2 that almost none of the players use in their club sides is dogmatic in the extreme. Our ridiculous justification of retaining the hoof n hope style, namely that we don’t have players capable of playing any other way, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What’s really scary is that we keep playing this way even though it’s yielding increasingly bad results.

I don’t see how you can realistically blame Capello for this. I don’t think he has beaten a lack of ability on the ball into these players (or if he has one can only admire his effectiveness given the limited time he has to work with them). Nor can he be blamed for the lack of individual skill or imagination in the side. Poor first touches, bad decision making, an inability to control or pass the ball accurately, a desire to ‘get rid’ as soon as possible, none of this is Capello’s fault. Failure on this scale takes years of training to accomplish. Where he does fall down is in trying to give the side an idea of how to attack or defend, you got the sense that no one in the Engerland team had a clear idea of how they were going to attack the Swiss. Or if there was an idea, it was the exceptionally bad one of lobbing the ball to Milner and somehow expecting something to happen other than giving possession to the Swiss. Admittedly that’s what Man U tried against Barcelona, but they at least had the hope that Valencia would be able to control then cross the ball.

Only Baines and Wilshire actually ever ran at the Swiss in a convincing, potentially dangerous way, and it was no surprise that Engerland’s goals should come from a penalty awarded after Wilshire ran into the box and a nice chip (admittedly by Milner) after a run down the left wing. Aside from this only Walcott seemed to take the Swiss on and sadly he has become a byword for ineffectiveness and non-delivery.

The Guilty And The Damned

Aside from a lack of a clear, compelling vision of how to beat the Swiss, Engerland’s other failings are legion. Darren Bent, like Man U’s Hernandez and Stoke’s Kenwynne Jones before him, was isolated and impotent as a lone striker trapped half a pitch away from his nearest teammate, although in his case he was played out of the game by some of the most successful graduates of the Arsenal defensive academy rather than the best Barelona can offer. So obviously he had some chances, the two most blatant of which came from balls passed or richoceted to him along the ground. His inability to score open goals really is impressive. On this display even Carlton Cole has a chance of an Engerland callup.

Walcott patently isn’t a winger. It’s not clear what he is, in his moment he can be devastating, but he’s no wingman. He seemed to offer no real threat and you can understand why Capello isn’t entirely sold on him. His defensive duties covering for the useless Glen Johnson also limit his forward progress, but he’s fundamentally toothless.

Milner’s not a winger either, neither is he blessed with pace nor ability on the ball. So, aside from providing an ample target for Terry and Ferdinand to lob balls at, it’s hard to see what his role on the right is suppose to be. Having both Walcott and Milner playing wide effectively gave the midfield to the Swiss.

Engerland’s midfield, meanwhile, is a total mess. Lampard was so ineffective he must be fast running out of arguments for his inclusion. Currently he seems to be there simply because the ancient Lampard/Gerrard dilemma seems to fester in people’s minds and Gerrard is now injured. There must be other midfielders from the under-21s who can step up to this level. It’s easy to see why his goalscoring seems to have fallen off a cliff.

How Scott Parker managed to win the Player of the Year award is a total mystery. He seems to have slipped into that moment in time which was after Nasri stopped doing cool stuff and before Dirty Suarez arrived at Loserpool. Admittedly it was a very, very short moment so big ups for seizing the day and all, but Player of the Year Parker is not. His one trick, a kind of groovy 360 degree shuffle with the ball that retains possession while leaving the player dizzy and confused, while funny to watch isn’t going to make it onto the training grounds of Stoke, let alone Barcelona. Didn’t so much shit on his copybook as rip the whole thing up and stuff it into the bin.

Jack Wilshire, new boy on the block, illustrates everything that is good and bad about Engerland. On the plus side, he’s got great technique (we’ll soon beat that out of him I suppose) and drive. He made the only genuinely dangerous penetrating run into the Swiss penalty area. And, amazingly enough, he still wants the ball. On the negative side, he looked tired and was booked for one of those classic ‘I’ve lost the ball, so I’d better leap at it at knee height’ tackles that encourages fans to mistake ‘dangerous and stupid’ for ‘passionate’. Still the only member of the midfield whose name should be on the teamsheet.

And if our midfield is a mess, our defence is simply decrepit. Ashley Cole looks like this season has gone on for a month too long, and for him the 15 minutes he played were 15 minutes too much as he succumbed to an inevitable exhaustion-related injury. He’s still a great left back and it’s good that he’s finally got some serious competition in Baines and Gibbs.

Terry and Ferdinand are starting to look their age, an increasingly crumbling defensive pairing. If genuine threat starts at the back then these two have to go as neither seems capable of initiating a real life counterattack other than by hoofing the ball to a striker who is 40 yards from his nearest teammate. Now unless you are Chile’s Salas from back in the day, that’s not a real recipe for a goalscoring opportunity at Wembley. It was telling that Bent’s only one on one with the keeper came from a through ball played on the ground by Wilshire.

As for Glenda Johnson, it seems improbable that there isn’t a better English right back. He doesn’t defend well, drags Walcott back into his own half, can’t pass and ultimately contributes nothing to the team. Surely, surely he is going to be dumped soon.

On The Plus Side

Montenegro, who bizarrely are England’s only serious challenger in this group, also drew. This means Engerland’s fate is still in their own hands. Win their next three matches, away to Bulgaria, at home to Wales and away to Montenegro and they’ve qualified. And that is probably the most shocking thing about this whole sorry episode.

What We Learned From Switzerland vs Engerland (1-3)

OK So Switzerland Aren’t Going To Be The Bogey Team

Sadly all the Swiss fans were going to go home unhappy

They might have been the only team aside from the USA (and now Argentina) to have beaten the Spaniards in something like a hundred years, and they might have one of the most impressive international defensive records known to man (accompanied only by an inexplicable inability to actually score at the other end), but the Swiss team that turned out here was a pale shade of their World Cup counterparts. In fact they were so abject that we can only conclude that Montenegro is going to be the bogey team in this group.

The team that once seemed incapable of conceding a goal now seemed unable to actually defend. Sure Engerland were actually good, replicating all the positives of last week’s match with group no hopers Bulgaria, but they were admirably aided by a team that looked beaten even before the kick off. As with the World Cup qualifying campaign, Engerland looked superior in comparison to tawdry opposition, the new shape (Hart, Jags, Gerrard, Rhino, Miliner plus three attacking midfielders/forwards) looks imposing enough for qualification and may, with time, gel to become a dangerous tournament team. Sure they were more tested against a team that has, itself, actually qualified for a tournament, they conceded a goal and found it harder to make genuine chances, but they never looked like they would be useless enough to throw it all away even if Darren Bent eventually got both a run out and a goal.

Are Engerland Actually Developing Strength In Depth?

I say this not because we have suddenly unearthed a new minesworth of brand new English football talent (although the Under 21 side did scrape through to the play offs for the Euro 2011 Under 21 Championships and does contain quite a few interesting players), but because it’s looking like we may have a bit more competition for places. However, it’s a toss up between the strength and poise of, say,  Jagielka and Lescott being an indication of the depth of quality in the squad and it being simply the death knell for Titface and Rio. Personally I favour the latter as that can’t come quickly enough. With Rio basically as fit as Ledley King (and we all know how well that turned out) and trotting on to 32 in November and with Titface slowing down like he’s stuck in one of those ‘running away but marooned in custard’ dreams, I’m hoping Not-Quite-As-Crapello-As-We-Thought will have the strength to tell them that they’re not going to automatically walk straight back into the side. Of much more interest is the growing strength of our wide players, Wallchart, Adam Johnson, Lennon, Miliner and potential new boys like Mark Albrighton. Suddenly friendlies have a purpose again, to allow Crapello to test out new partnerships in a meaningful way rather than just go through the motions. If only we could actually develop some real forwards to challenge Defoe that would be progress.

Boasting Nearly Half The Team Doesn’t Give You The Credit

Much was made of the point at which almost half the Engerland team comprised Man City players (Hart, Lescott, Barry, Miliner, Adam Johnson, with Shaun the Sheep on the bench). How proud Man City must be to have brought along such players. Actually bought along would be more appropriate. Hart and Shaun aside, these players have been purchased not developed by Man City. The credit should go to Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds and Middlesborough. Now if all these players are demonstrably better in 12 months time, then Man City will have something to crow about.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Poor Spooner Bob. He really isn’t going to live down that World Cup fuck up. However, he might spare a few moments of his time to post this video of Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina playing his first game for Spain for ages against a now Maradonnaless Argentina. It’s better than anything howled up by Green, Carson or even Robinson. No wonder the boy has been kept out of the proper Spain side by Castillas. If Reina was English he’d never play for his club, let alone the national team again. It’s also worth noting the truly cowardly defending that leads up to the hospital pass back to Reina. Sometimes a good hoof is the best policy.

What We Learned From Group H Eliminators

Suicide Is Painless – Spain 2 – 1 Chile

Suicide may be painless, but as the Theme From M*A*S*H so accurately states, it brings on many changes, none more so than the act of suicidal madness that led to the first Spanish goal. Spain were being soundly humiliated by a Chile side that just hasn’t got a clue what ‘careful defending’ means, so much so that you just couldn’t believe this was the same ‘tikki-takka’ loving possession-hogging  Spanish team that had gone nearly a million football years without losing and is currently European Champion. They seemed totally screwed, neither sticking to their pretty passing, nor going for a more varied mix-it-up strategy, almost as if they had had some kind of psychotic incident following their loss to the Swiss which caused them to undergo a total  personality change. Up to the point which we will in keeping with the best traditions of spoiler avoidance simply refer to as the ‘unfortunate incident’, the Spanish had no chance of surviving this match and every chance of joining France and Italy in Economy Class.

Now I’ve rightly slated the ITV coverage of this tournament, but one prescient comment in this match stands out. Summeriser Chris Coleman, not usually one to make intelligent observation, referred to Chilean goalie Claudio Bravo as “a bit of a risk, you never know what you’re going to get”. No sooner had he said it than Bravo inexplicably sprinted out of his goal to try and cut off what looked like a classic ‘hoof and bope’ attempt from Pique. Although he made the ball before Torres and the defender chasing him, he failed in that most vital of defensive tasks, namely hitting the ball into Row Z. Instead the ball landed in front of David Villa, who was prowling around the centre line and presented him with a totally empty net to aim at. Now I’m sure it took a fair amount of skill to trap the ball and then lob it into the net, but it did look like one of those goals that even you could have scored. 1 – 0 and the Spanish basically hadn’t even got out of bed.

It illustrates everything that is great and exasperating about Chile. In the same way that Switzerland only know how to defend, Chile only know how to attack. Their 3 – 1 – 3 – 3 formation is really flexible, when they’re in attack they leave 3 at the back, but as soon as they lose possession one of the midfield players drops back into defence, but it is essentially set up to attack. And once they were a goal down, their defensive inadequacy came to the fore as they started to incorporate a policy of ‘hack and slay’ on the Spanish, picking up a load of bookings and one sending off. After that it was essentially game over.

The Spanish still haven’t overcome their psychological  torment, even though they were tippy-tapping it around at the end. They still look completely unsure of what they want to do in a footballing philosophy sense. And while it’s great that Switzerland didn’t get through, it’s a shame Chile weren’t the Group winners, if only because Spain’s win sets up an all-South American clash between Brazil and Chile and an all-European clash between Spain and Portugal. It would have been much more interesting to see two ties between Europe and South America really.

All We Are Saying Is Give Us A Goal – Switzerland 0 – 0 Honduras

So well done to Switzerland, you continued your wholly average run through the last two World Cups, drawing every match and barely scoring any goals. And remain comfortably the least interesting international football team in the world. All you had to do was score and you just couldn’t do it. Even your goal against Spain was more of a happy accident than an attempt on goal. And jolly well done happy Honduras, comfortably the worst and least interesting team to watch (and that’s saying something). You never felt they were capable of adding anything to the tournament.

So Bye-Bye Switzerland And Honduras

48 Down 16 To Go 16 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 Chile vs Switzerland (1-0)

Once More Unto The Breech

More than any team here, Switzerland epitomise the defensive element of the Mourinho Doctrine. They have the most successful defence in World Cup history, indeed they went through the whole of the last World Cup without conceding a goal. Chile’s task was simple, break down the defence and win the match, all it would take would be one goal and that would be that. Because while Switzerland have full mastery of the defensive arts, they have the sort of blunt, snub-nosed attack that would embarrass a pub team. Remember that World Cup where they didn’t concede? Well they didn’t score either, a feat that made them comfortably the most boring team at Germany 2006 and their last 16 match against the Ukraine was awesomely tedious, the single worst competitive international match ever.

Chile were aided by the sending off of West Ham’s Behrami for sticking his hand around not one, but two players’ faces (both drawing pretty blatant grab and dives). This cramped even Switzerland’s style and you sensed that they would be making even fewer breaks than they did against Spain. The match degenerated into Chilean attack vs Swiss defence, a kind of counterpoint to the second half of the Portugal vs North Korea match, where it wasn’t so much a case of how many can Chile score as how many will Switzerland stop. And bizarrely it was quite compellingly gripping. And it even had the right result, Chile, whose football is based on the philosophy of ‘Attack’, ended up scoring and, a single chance aside, Switzerland never looked like getting back into the game.  Now this group is wide open, you have to back the Swiss to beat Honduras (as should Spain), so it will all boil down to Chile vs Spain, the final match of the Group Stage.  Awesome.

Out Come The Cheats

As the games become more meaningful, so the blatant cheating comes to the fore. This World Cup has seen the rise of the spontaneous face grab and dive (with optional double roll and pike). Yesterday we saw various grab and dives from both the Ivory Coast and the Brazillians, the worst being Kieta’s obvious playacting after he had run into Kaka (embarrassment at running into another player when he could obviously have avoided him hasn’t been ruled out as the reason behind Kieta’s behaviour). Here, in a match that obviously mattered, where the winners were pretty much guaranteed a place in the Knockout Stages, and with a really pernickety ref the cheating came out big time. With players being booked for pretty minor infractions, any grab and dive was likely to bring out the cards and massively upset the opposition. Despite this, however, Kieta is still King of the Cheats.

31 Down 33 To Go 30 Teams Remaining