England’s 6-0 thrashing of Andorra were viewed in many quarters as a sweep, a one-sided victory of the inevitable. Sure, the score line suggests that and it could have been more.
However, behind the morale-boosting result that no doubt has led this nation nutty into believing the World Cup is within their grasps, England has not learned anything from this game. Granted, this was not a friendly; this was a World Cup qualifier with three valuable points at stake that would edge England nearer to the plane to South Africa with qualification virtually sealed.
But let’s face it, this was a game against seriously inferior opposition, a team with only a single professional player on board; the No. 6 defender who plays in the second division Italian Serie B. This was a match that Capello could afford to sample and play around a bit, basically "do a Sven."
However, I am not campaigning for Capello to bring back the dice-throwing days of Sven bombarding substitutes on to the pitch. Far from it. I am deeply impressed with how Fabio marshaled this flagging side into a serious, organized, solid team. My worries lie with the fact England played impatient football.
We all know about the fussy Wembley crowd who can get on the team, berating until Ashley Cole drops a clanger and the home support slate with glee. So the need for England to "deliver" a performance becomes greater than normally; the burden is deeper.
Understandably, the vibe reaches to the players channelling England to play with incredible hunger, zooming about all over the pitch. As a result, the team is exposed into losing its shape and discipline. This has happened numerous times before. It is how the England national team performs; that is the inbred British Bulldog character.
Though we are talking about Andorra, where the whole team (apart from "striker" Fernando Silva) set camp in their own half, their game plan was simple. Andorra was performing Damage Limitation and fair play; they have to use the best of their resources and they don’t have any.
Now comes to the focal point of my argument: why doesn’t England use this game wisely? Behind the confident, joyous faces (which had a hint of smugness) at the final whistle as they trodden down the tunnel, what has England actually learned?
Just a reminder that Beckham can still play at the highest level (though does playing against Andorra count?) with his spraying passes almost never amiss. That Theo Walcott is still inconsistent. That Lampard can play. Blah blah we already know all this.
England needs to learn to pass intricately.
They could’ve used this no-doubt training match as a platform to hone drilled routines they, presumably, did at training. Perhaps they did. If the team were practicing Johnson crosses into the box then they didn't transfer training methods on to the pitch.
But shouldn’t England have been training drilled routines with wide men focusing more on connecting with their colleagues on the flanks? Instead of Gerrard cutting inside and shooting at will, which we undeniably want him to do at the World Cup, Gerrard should be focusing on establishing an understanding with Ashley Cole.
The same can be said for Walcott and Johnson. While those two have a partnership at hand, they didn’t smoothly complement each other. It was more of basic football movement that anyone with a common head would do that Theo and the others did.
The team should be concentrating on improving drastically their awareness of one another instead of how many times they can put the ball in the net.
If you recall an earlier qualifier between England and Belarus in Minsk, Belarus enjoyed the better of possession.
More importantly, they made good use of it.
Their opening goal was of sublime quality, ripping through the England side at speed.
The almost telepathy-understanding between these barely-known players (the only famous player, Alexander Hleb of Barcelona and formerly Arsenal, was injured) was fantastic. The same can be said for Belarus’ giant neighbour Russia under Guus Hiddink.
Though England, from the outset, are a better side than Russia. Are they really?
I think not.
England failed to comprehend the basic yet instrumental triangular passes. I have been saying this for years. They may have done one-twos but even these were not executed well; England’s moves were rushly-produced without intense care. The all-important weighted-pass was never distributed.
Russia, Belarus, Croatia; all England direct opponents in qualifying groups of recent years, have mastered this simple yet skillful technique. The triangular passes are almost synonymous with these Eastern European sides and they mastered that in the last few years resulting in themselves growing into dangerous teams, earning respect along the way. These minor countries (in football terms) grasped the simplicity of the game that England, for all their resources, wealth, billion-pound new stadium, and a coach earning millions a year, don’t.
The masters of them all at passing are the Spanish. Having won the Euros and so far 33 games undefeated stretching over two years, Spain killed New Zealand 5-0 without a sweat. New Zealand are 83rd ranked and Andorra sinks far below.
Yet Spain came away with one goal less than England’s score (though the game could and should have been somewhat 8-0 were it not for four wrong off-side decisions, each with the Spanish player soaring free on goal).
The Spanish with the ball hardly ran while England ran and ran with the ball, whether its Walcott, Johnson, or Gerrard. The key to playing this way of football is to do less running with the ball and more running without the ball. The team should be revolving around the player in possession so as to continue the flow of the team movement.
Spain’s fourth goal is a classic example that England should’ve been attempting to execute. I say attempting because quite frankly, England cannot do it. So at a game that means far more than a friendly, a game where it is not pointless, a qualifier, England could try and play like that. Then at the end, it will have been a lesson learned.
Teams need to grow. Playing gung-ho and trying to score as many as possible don’t do this. England’s approach is just luck of the day, it’s just an outcome.
I must stress the standstill positions of the Spanish players when with the ball. Riera held the ball and was literally standing as he feints to take a cross, but instead slipped a return pass to the sneaky left-back Capdevilla who ghosted through in the box. One-on-one at goal, Capdevilla resisted the glaring opportunity to shoot and score but chooses the guarantee-route; passing three yards right to the standing Fabregas who slots into an empty net.
Can you imagine a move like this ever happening for England?
Capdevilla was the Spanish left back. We know Cole can do this as he proved during his heyday at Arsenal. Why didn’t Cole and Gerrard, the "left midfielder," train on this? In fact, Cole did once pass and run for the expectant return pass, but Gerrard neglected this, choosing to shoot just outside the box when a slip back to Cole would’ve killed the Andorran defense and sent him bearing on goal, giving Cole the luxurious scenario that Capdevilla had.
As Andorra sat back in rows, England lost its shape a little as it became a park kick-about. When Beckham was occasionally popping on the left side cannoning quarterback throws to Walcott and Johnson, I couldn’t help but notice the empty space behind him. The defenders, especially Cole, weren’t behind him. This depicts the eventual indiscipline of the team.
Yes in that game they could afford to with rolling-around oppositions not wanting to play football, but this is the point I’m highlighting.
Will England in other games, even against lowly opponents let alone sides of greater quality, expose their backside like that?
Actually, can they afford to? They cannot because they must not. The shape must be intact and the team should outwit opponents with intelligent passing and movement. And this is exactly the tactic they did not polish.
This game against Andorra, poor opponents, was the perfect stage for England to show they can play "cleverly." Heck, they didn’t even need to run. With their technical skills, they should be focusing on keeping possession with lots of short passes and wearing out Andorra before scoring goals against dehydrated opponents. Instead, they break sweat and perform as if their lives depend on it.
View it this way, England are playing Andorra at chess. England’s skills qualify as a queen. And they have the queen while Andorra is bereft of it, so clearly the side with queen are technically stronger. Yet England chose not to use the queen, squabbling with pawns instead.
Use your queen. Use your skills. Use your brains.
I repeat, England were impatient.
They went gung-ho from the word "go." They wanted to give the home fans a lot to smile about. The aim was giving the nation a team they can be proud of.
The England sponsor nationwide slogan tells you everything about the team and the country itself—Pride, Passion, and Belief.
How about Intelligent, Witty, and Cunning?
What the national team lacks, and I mean it in depth, is charisma. And that is the best asset the Spanish have.
The Spanish Armada is sailing nicely; breezing through while England continues to weather the storms.
While result-orientated boss Capello will no doubt be pleased with this performance, as he drew a rare military smile, Spanish midfield maestros Xavi, Cesc, and Iniesta would’ve probably looked on disapprovingly.
I, for one, did.
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