england beats israel
but if you are an england fan i suggest you don't get too excited yet. there are a lot of factors that could keep england in trouble and exclude them from the euros, not the least of which is mcclaren.
first thing to remember is that england is in a group with croatia and russia. russia are a disciplined, well organized, physically fit, guus hiddink coached team. they cannot and should not be taken lightly. they are easily capable of drawing against any great european team, somewhat capable of beating any great european team, and are increasingly less likely to let games slip away since hiddink arrived in moscow.
then there is croatia. they are the top of the group. they are, on their day -- and they have a lot of them -- a seriously dangerous european side. they have proven goal scorers like eduardo and klasnic, niko kovac in the midfield and his brother robert in defense. not to mention a bunch of lesser known players with real talent. i will be surprised if they don't win the group -- which leaves only one spot for england and russia to battle for.
and that battle is made much tougher by the presence of steve mcclaren, and this is not because i think he is a shit manager. on the contrary...i think he is pretty decent. under mcclaren, middlesborough aspired to and achieved mid-table premiership mediocrity, punching well above their weight, as can be seen by last year's performance and their lacklustre opening to this year's league. he did a solid, albeit uninspired, job.
the problem is that mcclaren is not a strong enough personality to put his stamp on the england team -- and the england coach MUST BE as powerful a personality as the players (just look at how dunga rallied brazil in this year's copa, having the balls to do it without kaka and ronaldihno). this is still sven's team -- and a change of captain isn't enough to change that. moreover, the problem with this being sven's team is that sven isn't there to make it work. but back to mcclaren. his weak personality insures that he will not change the team because the press will have a fit.
why is this cause for concern? they just beat israel 3-0, and mcclaren made some changes, didn't he? yes, he did. but they were changes that were forced on him by circumstances and he will revert to his "sven" position when the circumstances change back to normal.
gareth barry was excellent on the weekend, making two goals, but most importantly he worked well with stevie g. and joe cole was excellent too. but as soon as lampard and hargreaves are back they are in. i am not totally opposed to the former or the latter, but the former DOES NOT work with stevie. and if i had to choose between frank or stevie there is no choice. stevie wins.
another excellent move was emile heskey. oh i know...he doesn't score goals, but so what. that is not what he is there to do. watch that michael owen goal again. he takes the ball from barry's fantastic pass (an accurate, ballsy rocket) and scores on the half volley. but where was the defender? he was taken out of the play by big emile. owen is a true threat up front when emile is in the game. for me they remain england's best combo up. this is a team game and they make the best team. fuck rooney and crouch (although both would be great on the bench for late impact substitutions) because they are individuals, and excellent individuals in their own way, but they are not the best players when it comes to the team or the teams chemistry.
and ultimately that is the big problem with england. too many individuals. but that disappeared against israel because circumstance required it. swp came on and excelled. cole excelled. barry excelled. owen and heskey excelled. gerrard excelled. richards excelled. and they all did so because the egos and individuals were out of the way and what was left was a bunch of team players: some because they are naturally so (like heskey, gerrard and owen) and some because they were trying to prove something (like cole, swp and barry).
that is what england needs -- now and always. and if, from now on, they play the same team they played against israel (except for robinson who i still think needs to be put on the roster as back up for one of the young guys) they will qualify with no difficulty. but they won't and it will be a slog to qualify that, this time, might just be out of reach because of a rising russian squad.
but you know what? long term that might be the best thing for english football. at least it will mean that mcclaren is replaced. and then steve can get back to coaching somewhere in the middle of some country's table.
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