Richard Jackson is blogging throughout the World Cup as he travels around South Africa from Cape Town to Johannesburg. You can follow his journey through the ‘Bolton Raider’ facebook page and on http://www.subsidesports.com/
In my short time watching football it seems the only thing for sure in this game is that nothing is for certain. Spain have fallen to Switzerland, Germany were beaten by Serbia and after failing to qualify since 1966, North Korea came within a goal of a famous result against Brazil. In the grand scheme of things England drawing against Algeria last night was small fry and with a win against Slovenia guaranteeing qualification England fans and journalists should be wary of writing off their team too early.
Of course, the result is an embarrassment for England and the performance was poor. Algeria certainly deserved the draw they earned, as the lions lacked imagination in there build up play. In truth they never looked like creating a meaningful opening and were restricted to efforts from distance for much of the game. Most of all England lacked movement from the forwards players and once again failed to play with the drive tempo there Premier League stars are characterised by. It was a shame to see the frustrated Rooney dropping so deep in the latter stages. If Capello is to get the best of his talented group he must devise a system which gets much more out of the United front man.
I have never really been a fan of explaining formations in terms of numbers, as I feel fluidity of the modern game often makes them misleading, although it seems the systems based around greater use of width are massively underused by Capello (typically referred to 4-3-3 or 4-5-1). It is rare to have a forward so good both in front of goal and with his back to it, and as the spearhead of Man Utd’s attack Rooney is utilised in both departments. So often Rooney uses his excellent vision to find his overlapping wingers and with a legitimate goal threat from both Nani and Valencia United are so often devastating in attack. In contrast England’s flat rigid system offers no such threat from wide areas, and Rooney is often left marooned as his teams predictable attacks are foiled. It is ironic that Rooney is much less isolated when he plays as a lone striker for United. England certainly have the players for the type of system I suggest; Rooney as the front-man, Lennon and Joe Cole wide with Gerrard and Lampard central in front of Barry holding. It is unfortunate that this allows no starting spot for Emile Heskey, who has been one of England’s best players this campaign, although his exclusion may be necessary to allow England to play the high tempo and varied football to get their World Cup back on track.
Despite this criticism I must end this blog with a call for support for England. I have never met a group of fans so unhappy as the English. Leaving a bar in Port Elizabeth last night my England cricket shirt was commonly greeted by disgruntled England fans, with a nod and a short insult about the team, most of which I cannot repeat. England fans both in South Africa and back home must have some perspective. England have had one poor result – it is not disastrous. For what it’s worth I think qualifying as runners-up would be good for England. If fans and players are serious about winning this competition they must be prepared to face the best teams in the world at any stage. It might be the kick up the back side they need.
If England stumble against Slovenia we must realise that this competition is about much more than England. Big teams will lose. Big players will under perform. Big bets will be lost. It’s this unpredictability that makes football such a beautiful game. That said, having spent the last 10 days here in South Africa, I’m increasingly aware of how this tournament more than anything, is about much more than just football.
Richard Jackson (The Bolton Raider) for Subside Sports