FIFA 2010 World Cup: Evaluating England's Early Exit

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FIFA 2010 World Cup: Evaluating England's Early Exit
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

As England’s 2010 World Cup campaign came to an undignified end on Sunday, the inquest into another early exit begun.

The 4-1 thrashing at the hands of old rivals, Germany, signalled a disappointing end to an altogether disappointing month of football for England. The dismal performance against Germany laid bare England’s shortcomings, and made it clear that the so-called “golden generation” of English football were grossly over hyped.

The realisation that they were no match for a German side, criticised as the worst team they had for years, again highlights the many shortcomings of the team, from the Football Association down.

It now appears that the sole success of England’s World Cup has been the restoration of their fans’ reputation. The much-maligned England fans have behaved brilliantly throughout the tournament, and have gone some way to dispel the hooligan status that was given them following violence in previous competitions. Their support has become the best in the world, and they did not deserve to be subjected to the performances they spent a small fortune to see.

Now the fallout from England’s embarrassing defeat, and disastrous campaign, begins, as the nation tries to come to grips with where it all went wrong.

The World Cup began with scenes of joy in England after Steven Gerrard fired England into a third-minute lead against the U.S.A. This was about as good as it got as Robert Green, literally, handed the Americans a way back into the match.

Capello put his faith in Green, and chose him over the more experienced David James, and the in-form Joe Hart. The decision backfired, with Green’s lapse in concentration costing England a winning start to the competition.

England then subjected their fans to the most tedious, uninspiring, a downright abject performance in their history. Without any sort of inspiration, the side was booed off the pitch following the 0-0 draw with Algeria, and England’s qualification hopes were left in the balance.

Capello, for the first time in his reign as England boss, was questioned, and there were rumours of unrest within the England camp. These rumours were substantiated when John Terry spoke to the press, openly questioning Capello’s tactics, and his decision to exclude Joe Cole from the England side.

A much-improved performance against Slovenia managed to confirm England’s passage into the last 16 on Friday. Capello answered his critics in wonderful fashion, dropping Aaron Lennon and Emile Heskey in favour of James Milner and Jermain Defoe. It was Defoe who converted Milner’s cross to score the only goal of the game and secure qualification.

A meeting with Germany was confirmed later that day. The group stage disappointment now translated into a much tougher route to the World Cup final. Instead of facing Ghana near their base in Rustenberg, England made the trip to Bloemfontein to face Germany. Victory against the old enemy would secure a quarterfinal match with Argentina. The group-winning alternative would have been a match with Uruguay.

Against Germany, England were outplayed. Who knows what the result would have been if Frank Lampard’s dipping volley was allowed, and England equalised at 2-2. However, the team looked a shadow of former England teams that at least showed passion and heart even in defeat.

The Three Lions on their chests should have been replaced by three kittens. Not a single tackle of note until Ashley Cole thundered into Thomas Muller around the 20 minute mark. Not a single tackle of note for the following 70 minutes. England were unfortunate not to be level after Lampard’s goal was not given, but they had no defence (literally) when Germany made it three, and then four.

Overall, England were embarrassed and deserved their early exit—a direct result of their failings in the group stages. The performance against Germany was utterly forgettable. Unfortunately, it will linger in our memories for a long time.

Capello’s unequivocal support for the 4-4-2 system led to a rigid and stale England side. The team resembled a group of players who looked desperate for a change, but Capello failed to implement one.

There is strong belief that the players would have preferred a 4-5-1 formation. There was also evidence to suggest the England team would have preferred David James to start in goal, ahead of Robert Green. The public opinion also backed the 4-5-1 trial. Most hoped to see Steven Gerrard lining up behind lone-striker, Wayne Rooney. There was an obvious feeling that Joe Cole should start wide on the left, demonstrated in Terry’s press conference.

Gerrard was perhaps the greatest success from the opening game. He played in central midfield with Lampard and was given license to roam, with the Chelsea man playing the holding role. Lampard performed well, but Gerrard was excellent. He scored the goal, looked dangerous in possession, and generally was at the heart of everything good about the England team.

Against Algeria, Gareth Barry was fit and returned to the starting lineup. Gerrard was inexplicably pushed out to the left wing. Following what was likely his best performance in an England shirt for several years, Gerrard was then asked to play a different role so England did not change its shape.

Gerrard was clearly uncomfortable in the role, dropping into his natural central position at every opportunity, leaving England without width. The decision from Capello was questionable to say the least.

Capello was unwavering in his backing for 4-4-2 and Heskey. While some criticisms may be unjustified, there were obvious issues in his selections. Heskey was good against the U.S.A. Unfortunately his performance was blighted by the same old criticism—his failure to score.

Three goalkeepers have a better scoring record at international level than Heskey, and it became obvious why when Heskey was presented with a golden opportunity to give England the lead in that match, but fired straight at the keeper.

When all is said and done, England needs goals, and Heskey consistently fails to provide these. However, Capello persisted with Heskey against Algeria. In a game that England needed to win, Capello again chose the workhorse Heskey, ahead of two strikers who are likely to find the back of the net.

Jermain Defoe scored over 20 goals for his club this season, while Peter Crouch’s international goalscoring record is outstanding. Instead, Heskey, with seven goals from 62 caps, again failed to find the net. Capello finally replaced him after 85 minutes, allowing Crouch no time to get a glimpse of goal.

In fact, Capello’s substitutions were widely criticised throughout the tournament—and with good reason. He started James Milner against U.S.A. when he had suffered from illness for a week before the game. When Milner failed to perform, he was replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips on the left wing. Just days before, Wright-Phillips was deployed on the left against Japan in a friendly. He failed to have any impact then, and Joe Cole replaced him. Cole was clearly more creative, and more comfortable in the role. As a result, England went on to win the game, turning around a 1-0 deficit in the process.

The final straw for many was Capello’s substitutions against Germany. The ineffective Wright-Phillips was again brought on ahead of the more creative Joe Cole, and the faster Aaron Lennon.

England, chasing the game, and in desperate need of a goal at 4-1 down, bring on Heskey. Defoe, the liveliest of the 10 outfield players, was sacrificed and hope was all but lost.

Capello looked out of ideas. For the first time in his reign as England manager, Capello’s team was not performing and needed a spark. Capello couldn’t find it. In fact, he barely changed anything. The result was two disappointing draws in the group stage, and an early exit from the World Cup.

However, Capello can’t take all the blame. The players must shoulder some of the blame as they simply didn’t perform. Wayne Rooney was anonymous, with the exception of a foul-mouthed outburst at England fans following the draw with Algeria.

We may never know if Rooney was injured, but he simply underperformed. At a time when he is considered England’s top commodity and one of the best players in the game today, the world’s greatest footballing event has simply passed him by.

Lampard was again quiet, unable to find the form he produces for Chelsea. Gerrard played well but was not outstanding. Barry was poor, and looked several yards off the pace. Lennon produced nothing of note in his two starts, while Wright-Phillips played like a man who is no longer even in his club’s first 11. Heskey again failed to score. Milner, excluding two terrific crosses against Slovenia, was neither creative nor quick enough to cause any problems for the opposition.

In defence, England were ruthlessly exposed the first time they met strong opposition. Barry offered little to no protection for the back four, and Glen Johnson’s defensive frailties were obvious. Ashley Cole meanwhile, was as reliable as ever, and perhaps England’s best performer throughout their ill-fated spell in South Africa.

Terry, despite his excellent performances in previous matches, struggled with the pace of the German strike force; a strike force which isn’t actually all that fast. Alongside him, Matthew Upson was equally troubled, his lack of pace evident in Germany’s first goal. Jamie Carragher, recalled to the squad before the tournament, was even slower than Upson, and ill-disciplined to boot. His two yellow cards against U.S.A. and Algeria were unnecessary and clumsy, and they cost him his place in the starting lineup following his suspension.

In goal, Capello clearly made a mistake selecting Green. David James looked confident and assured following his selection, dispelling any fears that he may return to the “Calamity James” persona he has experienced in the past. This begs the question, why was James not selected against the U.S.A.?

Capello’s decisions were questionable and there was no passion or pride in the team’s performances. The combination of the two was catastrophic, and England’s failure was all too clear.

England’s performances were summed up in two moments against Germany.

When Bastian Schweinsteiger broke for the third goal, Glen Johnson had the opportunity to stop him and prevent the goal. Johnson shirked the tackle, avoiding contact with Schweinsteiger, and Germany scored.

Perhaps he was thinking about the inevitable yellow card that would have kept him out a potential World Cup quarterfinal? Perhaps he is just too nice. Either way, England players from the past would have had no such qualms. A free-kick and yellow card would have been the outcome.

Would Bryan Robson, Terry Butcher, Bobby Moore or Stuart Pearce have bottled that tackle? Not a chance.

Just a few minutes later the same scenario played out again. Only Gareth Barry had the chance to stop Mesut Ozil, and prevent a fourth German goal. Just like Glen Johnson, he avoided contact, and England’s World Cup was over.

While it would be unfair to blame them for the defeat, Johnson and Barry’s actions epitomised England’s performances. There was no heart. No bite. Nothing to suggest that the team would put their country above their own opportunities.

England now must rebuild an aging team, but they lack the class to replace the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Ferdinand.

Capello’s rule is being questioned; his tactical flaws all too evident. The failure to beat U.S.A. and Algeria were just as bad as the loss to Germany. Capello has failed, and as such, he should take the fall. An English manager is needed to bring the pride and passion back into our football.

England’s fans deserve a team that displays their own spirit on the pitch, and an English manager might bring this. Harry Redknapp could be the solution.

For that to happen, England will have to replace Capello. This is now a costly move (around £12m) following the English FA’s decision to offer Capello a new contract before the World Cup, removing the clause that allowed him to leave for free should we fail. Now, he will enjoy a big pay off should the FA sack him. A pay off, he quite clearly does not deserve.

However, the FA’s decision does quite poignantly sum up the mess that is English football.

England failed. Capello failed. The FA failed. It’s back to the drawing board, and it should take some time to figure out how to solve the problems.

For now, England’s dreams are in tatters. Maybe one day, the feeling of disappointment that has become so common in England after a major football tournament, will be replaced with partying in the street.

It doesn’t look like happening any time soon, but our blind faith will always mean “we still believe”.

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