FIFA World Cup 2010: The Curious Case of the England Football Team
So England have dragged themselves from the group stages in less than impressive fashion, but on current showing they will not last long in a tournament now filled with skillful players and strong team units.
Here I'll take a specific look at the elements which need to improve, and quickly, if England want to beat Germany and continue into the tournament.
Passing: The official World Cup ball has been criticised for its unpredictability, but by now the teams should all be comfortable enough using it. England's passing can be sloppy, losing the ball in dangerous areas, as Gareth Barry did against Slovenia.
Against the USA, Frank Lampard placed a cross-field pass 15 yards behind Glen Johnson, which set up an attacking throw from English possession.
The best teams hold the ball, and while Jose Mourinho did indeed find a way to counter this, England can not be expected to set out an entirely defensive and counter-attacking team against the likes of Algeria. These are games England must be aggressive in.
More patience is required. England's natural instinct in to always go forward, but this might be curbed slightly to good effect. Our midfielders are certainly good enough, and Rooney and Defoe are capable of timing runs well, we are not utilising skills evident in the team.
Finishing: Winning teams tend to be clinical in finishing, and so far England have not been. Heskey, Rooney, Defoe, and Lampard are all guilty of missing chances that they would have almost certainly buried in the season, which leads me on to...
Dealing With Pressure: After scoring against Slovenia, England suddenly became assured and confident for 15 mintues, passing from wing to wing and stretching the Slovenian defence to-and-fro, before reverting to rushing forwards again.
That lull after the goal was how the English team can and should play on a regular basis. It's all well and good outclassing Andorra in the qualifiers, but if you cannot perform on the grandest stage of all then something is wrong.
Capello: Thankfully, steps have been taken in the right direction on this issue. Tales of iron-fisted disciplinarian Fabio Capello were leaking from the England camp and several commentators noted that the English team were playing with fear.
Before the Slovenia game, Capello changed his tactic slightly, and the team were allowed a beer before the crunch game the following morning. It's hardly the same exploits as the England team were up to in Italia 90, but it's certainly better than the curfew, which was supposedly implemented.
England have the constituent pieces to be a very good team, a team capable of challenging for honours. Now the team just have to raise their game, and keep it raised and go into a tricky game without the burden of fear on their backs. What could be easier eh?
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