Tuesday, June 27, 2006

England scrape the win.

England 1-0 Ecuador

A tight, uninspiring game was eventually separated by one moment of magic as England set up a repeat of the Euro 2004 semi-final.

England, quite frankly, were pretty shocking. They created sparse decent opportunities and their defending left quite a bit to be desired. To start off, the formation and tactics were a bit of a shambles. Rooney was left isolated up front, he put in the hard yards with a very committed performance but it was not the role for him. Strangely England had a tendency to pump balls long, bypassing the midfield. This is a tactic which can almost work with Crouch in that position, but not Rooney. Against Sweden in the first half, playing 4-4-2, even after Crouch had replaced Owen, England passed the ball around and cleverly created openings by working their way up through the midfield. This seemed to suit the team, however Sven in his wisdom decided on 4-5-1 (or 4-1-4-1 to be more precise) for the Ecuador game as Rooney often chased fruitlessly after punts from the defence. Rooney is fantastic when he plays that deep lying striker role, he creates a link between midfield and attack, he goes off on strong runs, he shoots dangerously from distance, and he helps create opportunities for his team mates. Left to lead the line on his own, he looks like a lost little boy. Carrick did well in his defensive midfield role but should he have that role? Do England need that role? Should it just be left to Gerrard and Lampard to marshall the centre of midfield or are there other solutions?

The England defence looked shaky at times, Terry had a bit of a nightmare on a couple of occasions, the first of which setting up Ecuador for the perfect opportunity to open the scoring only for a great block by Ashley Cole who had come haring back to resurrect the situation. Hargreaves had another good game at the atypical position of right back to demonstrate why he is in the squad. Lampard had a couple of magnificent chances in the second half, one in which he should have shot, instead trying to lay it off for Rooney only to succeed in giving away possession. The other was being in the perfect position in the penalty area with quite a bit of space, and blazing over with a shot reminiscent of a rugby conversion! Lampard who has scored so many goals for Chelsea is pretty down on confidence it seems, and just needs 1 goal to open the floodgates in my humble opinion.

The winning goal was a trademark Beckham free kick as he rolled back the years to curl the ball past Mora's outstretched hands, becoming the first Englishman to score in 3 different world cups. As I said before, he probably merits his position simply for his prowess at the dead ball situation alone. As apart from that he actually had a terrible game. At half-time Beckham had the statistic of a measly 44% passing accuracy as only 11/25 passes actually found their intended target. Towards the end of the game Beckham was visibly struggling but still Sven kept him on, waiting till there was 3 minutes to go before introducing Aaron Lennon. (Aaron Lennon: now there is a man who should be given more game time than he is!). Sven thinks England are getting "better and better and better" but I see no evidence of this myself!

Ultimately England played poorly and won. This is the sign of a good team, although perhaps it reflects the nature of the opposition rather than an innate winning mentality. Time will reveal all!

Ecuador: Looked reasonable in the first half. Tenorio could so easily have scored when he found himself one-on-one with Robinson. The keeper appeared beaten but as mentioned before Ashley Cole came in with a life saving deflection. Ecuador played with two up front as Tenorio and Delgado tried their best to terrorise England. In the second half Ecuador didn't create much of note, Castillo having one good shot that Robinson had to be alert to. They were probably eager to defend and take England to extra time. They lacked aggression at times and to be honest were a little disappointing overall.

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