06 June 2007

England 3-0 Estonia

Well, now we can have our David Beckham praise in full. The surprising thing is that most of it will be deserved.

If McClaren manages to lead England to qualification, and save his job in the process, a lot of it will come down to the recall of Beckham. And yes, I’m as surprised as you.

Beckham truly played well, even after picking up an ankle knock. I don’t want to join the chorus that will over-emphasize his role, but those were two gorgeous crosses for England’s second and third, both coming during open play.

I still feel, despite what McClaren says, Beckham still moves infield and congests the middle too often while leaving gaps to be exploited on the right. Wes Brown was on his own on the right flank for much of the match. But both of the crosses for goals came from the wing, and they were absolutely spot on. And now McClaren can take the credit for this master plan.

No matter how pretty the crosses were for the second half goals, England’s first goal was easily the best. Some of the moments Joe Cole has created while playing for England have been jaw dropping, and this was up there with the rest. Controls the flick-on from Crouch with his chest, swivels, and fires on the half-volley in off the post. If Ronaldinho did that, everyone would be falling over themselves.

I also thought that Crouch was up there with Beckham for man of the match. It’s easy to mock him at times, but he’s finished the game with a goal and assist, and was heavily involved with England’s attack. While I’ll readily admit his goal was down to Beckham’s cross, his header was perfectly placed, and he’s gotten stick for his heading ability in the past. Albeit against a different class of opposition, England held the ball up much better than against Brazil, and most of that was due to Crouch. He’s ruled out due of the next match because of a needless yellow picked up here, but McClaren would have dropped him in favor of the returning Rooney regardless. It’s too bad, because England’s played just as well with Crouch as with Rooney since Wayne’s performances in Euro 2004.

Let’s not get carried away though. England were playing Estonia, who have yet to score or gain a point during the qualifiers. And there are still problems with this team. I fear that, as usual, some will take too much from one game against admittedly lesser opposition. I know I fell for it after McClaren’s first few matches in charge.

Again, Lampard was fairly anonymous. He was more influential than against Brazil, but that isn’t saying much. Gerrard still did most of the legwork in midfield, as against Brazil if less effective, while Lampard was unable to pick up the slack in attack. Something has to happen here. It’s gotten repetitious, but I’m still of the opinion this pairing will not work against top competition.

The defense was also sloppy at times. Estonia was never going to create a ton of chances, but there were still a couple of moments where they managed to worry. Paul Robinson had to be quick off his line on the stroke of halftime when Voskoboinikov was through after easily splitting Ledley King and John Terry. And John Terry had to make a last ditch save in second half stoppage time after more confusion in the box and a shot that skidded under Robinson. There were gaps to be attacked on the counter when England was spread, and that’s worrying.

England still sits in 4th in the group, but only 3 points back of first place Croatia, who drew 0-0 at home against Russia today. Four of the five remaining games are at Wembley. It was unthinkable when the groups were drawn that England wouldn’t qualify, but now, I will echo McClaren (despite my preference not to) and agree it’s back in their own hands.

Job done here, and now no England games until September. I’m pleased to see the Liverpool players involved, Gerrard especially, get some well deserved rest before the Premier League resumes. Me thinks it's time for a nice, long summer. But, of course, hopefully chock full of gossip, hearsay, and innuendo.

So I heard Thierry Henry was off to AC Milan? Or is it Barca?

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