What We Learned From Engerland v Wales (1-0)


Description Of A Fool

I’m sure there was a song once by someone like A Tribe Called Quest about what it takes to build a Frankenstein fool out of the bits n pieces of poor quality human flesh you find lying around the place. A major constituent of which was unblinkered support for poor quality national sporting teams. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the poor, deluded fans of the Engerland football team. Fools to a man (and woman), they (we) continue to expect commanding, effective performances when years (decades in many cases) of experience tell us that this is simply not possible. Like hapless Lotto victims drawn back to the scratchcard pit simply because the potential jackpot (a genuinely impressive Engerland performance) is so staggeringly massive, they (we) are pulled back into the remorseless gravitational hole that is an Engerland match by the seeming certainty that one day, some day, it won’t be as terrible as this. That one day, some day, we will once again hit the heights of Engerland v Holland ’96, which was a truly beautiful game albeit one that took place over 15 years ago. And just as the Jolly Jackpot custodians pocket our tenners with glee, passing the dregs on to a cornucopia of poorly chosen ‘good causes’, so the Engerland team crush our spirits and extinguish our hopes by putting in yet another truly tedious display. One day, some day, we will tire of it.

Wales Scale The Lows

Pity the poor Welsh. Hampered by a catchment area that is not only the size of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but mainly populated by Welsh rugby players, they outpassed and out thought Engerland for large portions of the game and still got nothing for their trouble. They did Engerland a massive favour by beating Montenegro (something Engerland couldn’t do themselves) earlier in the week and they doubled up by missing an open goal from six yards to avoid giving themselves a draw. Now that’s either being super charitable, or bloody unlucky. Given they had the two most influential and effective players on the pitch in Ramsey and Bale, Wales have to consider themselves cursed in some way.

Engerland, meanwhile, just seem to be eternally cursed. The same tortuous failings reared their heads again. And while time and injury seem to have reduced the decade-long issue of how to play both Lampard and Gerrard in the same team to an irrelevance, the elephant in the room remains the absolute lack of any kind of creative midfield. We have a vaguely solid defence, Hart is good in goal, Smalling is looking capable, if a bit inexperienced on the right, Cole is looking experienced, if a little slower on the left, while Terry, Cahill, Rio, Jagielka and co provide a decent set of vaguely competent centerback pairings albeit with limited speed. We have pace, if not application, in the intermittent wing play of Wallchart, Young, Johnson and Downing, and occasionally skilful work from Rooney in attack. Yet we have no one and nothing to bind these two together other than aimless, ineffective hoof balls sent flying over the midfield like artillery barrages from the First World War.

Engerland’s failings are rooted in a schooling system that has children playing on full size pitches, where kick n rush is the common tongue and a long ball over the midfield scrum is often effective as your goal-hanging striker can just about outrun the opposition and pile the ball into a goalmouth that easily swallows pint-size keepers. It’s here that the thuggish 11 year old defenders can cut down attackers half their size with meaty impunity, barrage blocking them through the sheer power of their girths. Soon these too slow, too inept leviathans will become the Upsons of their age, taking their poor touch and limited control to all areas of the football league. No wonder we have no midfield. If Messi were English his legs would never have been extended and his spirit and talent would have been crushed by the time he was 12.

Engerland’s midfield was the pride of this exemplary display of long-term scholastic ignorance. Barry, so slow he makes time lapse photography look impossible, Milner, so continually ineffective, and the returning Lampard, who once played for Chelsea for years at a time, now seems to struggle to see his way through a single game. These are men more suited to playing a giant game of Grandmother’s Footsteps, not football, so static and immobile they seem. Not a single decisive forward thinking pass through the middle from any of them for the entire match. Not one, penetrating diagonal to Rooney. Not even an attempt. Barry seems to have thought that because he was wearing the no 4 shirt he should have been in the defence, or if he wasn’t that the ball should be immediately returned there. Milner seemed so preoccupied fouling Bale, he didn’t have time to do anything with the ball. While Lampard saw so little of it he might as well have been on holiday. Still he was more effective than Scott Parker, who replaced him and collapsed Engerland’s shape even further.

All of which meant that rather than pushing forward and pressing the Welsh, which admittedly Engerland did do for moments at the start of each half, the midfield simply stood off the defence, hunkering down on the customary 18 yard line like stick thin linebackers holding hands with the defence, and forced the attack to retreat ever further in search of the ball. As a result much of the play was condensed in the Engerland half, allowing Wales to have ever-more possession and making the old Engerland hoofball even more ineffective.

Rooney must just despair. Stuffed upfront like an unwanted child’s toy, he can’t have received the ball more than a handful of times in the Welsh half and each time he did he was encircled by two or three Welshmen and bereft of support. It must be something of a culture shock to come from a side that’s playing fluid, interchangeable pass and move football to the Engerland camp, where movement is discouraged, possession something to be feared and passing erratic at best.

There is an upside, if rewarding your greatest failings can be said to have an upside. Engerland have played very poorly and still got six points. No one got injured and we are a step nearer to qualification. Right now, the fact that these performances won’t see us get a point in the Group Stages is somewhat immaterial.

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