Friday, July 02, 2010

Round of 16. Match 3: Germany 4-1 England

This was an eagerly anticipated clash between two bitter enemies, or should I say football rivals. It has been pointed out to me that the rivalry is one-sided and that Germany don't consider it much of a rivalry. Whilst the Netherlands are their biggest rivals the Germans do also have a thing for the English - you only have to see how often Franz Beckenbauer is making disparaging comments about the England team to see that. It is a rivalry that, like any good rivalry, has developed through big, dramatic, controversial games throughout history. Some would suggest it's a match-up designed for later in the tournament - but thanks to England failing to win their group it was to be a second round match in 2010.

England never really got going in the early stages of the match despite the fact they had the odd chance to open the scoring. Germany were causing a few more problems but they weren't at their vintage best either - Oezil had a good chance in the opening minutes that James did well to turn away. The opening goal came after about 20 minutes and it was a very poor one for England to concede. Goalkeeper Neuer punted the ball long down the field. Both Terry and Upson failed to deal with it and as it eluded them it fell nicely for Klose to slide the ball home.

Germany very nearly got a second goal straight after. Fantastic interplay in the middle of the field led to Klose being denied by James. But the second goal wasn't long in coming. Germany again tore England apart and Mueller fed Podolski on the left who finished from a narrow angle. The defence was again very poor (especially the marking) and James should arguably have done better from such a tight angle.

England, against the run of play, pulled a goal back - a cross from Gerrard was headed in by Upson. Neuer came out and flailed towards the ball but Upson scored with a simple header. Then moments before half-time England looked like they had equalised. The ball sat up nicely for Lampard just outside the box and he chipped the keeper with an exquisite shot. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar, hit the ground over the line, and bounced out. Lampard was celebrating, as was Capello, as indeed was I. Remarkably the goal wasn't given. Replays show conclusively that the ball was significantly over the line and it was unbelievable that the referee's assistant missed it.

It was a crucial decision, it was a blatantly wrong decision, and it will again ignite calls for technology in football. Personally I think it would be a good idea to microchip the ball. It's an area of the game that can be proved definitively and it is something that can be introduced without interrupting the flow of the game. It should definitely be looked into. Instead of England going into half-time level and with their tails up, they were behind.

Early in the second half Lampard was again unlucky as he hit the crossbar from a free-kick. England were awarded another free-kick in a similar position not long after but this time Lampard hit the wall. Lampard put his arms in the air to appeal for handball, Barry lost possession on the edge of the German box and Germany broke at pace. A sweeping move ended in Mueller smashing in a goal. Barry was partially at fault for giving away possession but England had barely any players back in defence. Too busy searching for an equaliser they had committed too many men forward. Terry was conspicuous by his absence and James could possibly have done better - the ball was hit very hard but it was in an area in which James could have been expected to do better.

Moments later Germany killed the game off with a sucker punch. Germany cleared their lines and Oezil and Barry chased after it on the German left wing. Barry was left for dead, Oezil dribbled into the England penalty area and set up Mueller in acres of space for a simple finish. Again there were very few defenders back for England, and those that were might as well not have been.

Fact 1) Germany were by far the better side and deserved to win. Fact 2) England played poorly, particularly their defence. Fact 3) Lampard's goal that wasn't changed the complexion of the game. I'm not arguing that had he scored England would have won but I am arguing that they would have had a lot better chance. An equaliser at that point would have changed the course of the game. England would not have needed to attack attack attack if they were back on level terms. And it was the attacking, and thus leaving themselves exposed at the back, that led to the concession of the third and fourth goals.

It must be said that a team should also be judged on how it reacts to adversity. Did England use the disallowed goal as extra motivation or did they lose the plot? It was the latter. With over half an hour to go they were stupid enough to throw too many players forward in search of the equaliser. They must surely have known how devastating Germany can be on the counter-attack but instead of employing tactics to reflect this they pushed forward like headless chickens. Was an extra couple of defenders in attack going to make the difference in scoring? Probably not. Were they likely to get punished on the break? Probably yes. So what the hell were the defence thinking? They should have stuck to their job, they should have tracked back better and they should in essence have got the fundamentals right. They still had time to get an equaliser - they just had to be smarter about trying to achieve it. But they weren't. When leaders were needed on the pitch to be intelligent in what they were trying to achieve they were found wanting.

Now I wish to make some minor criticisms of Capello. Let me make it clear that again this is not an excuse for the England players. Neither Capello or the goal that wasn't are excuses. England were dire. Only Lampard and Gerrard can come out with any credit from that game. No matter what other factors were at play there is no escaping that the English team were shocking.

The England team that was picked was 4-4-2. Why did Capello continue with this when it seemed obvious to most that 4-5-1 was in order. Against such a potent German attack packing the midfield with 5 players was a necessity. In this scenario Cole should have come in on the left wing with Defoe dropping to the bench. Upson was picked ahead of Carragher who was available again after suspension. There are questions to be asked if that was the right decision too. And when chasing the game is it not ridiculous that Heskey was brought on for Defoe? Heskey who is simply not a goalscorer. Peter Crouch anyone? Also Hart should have been starting in goal at the World Cup. I have been saying this for months.

A bad argument that I've heard as well is that Terry was apparently playing on the side of central defence he was not used to. I'm not sure how this would make him lose all the fundamentals of his game in an instant however.

The long and the short of is it that Germany marched on and that England had to catch an early flight home.

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