22 June 2010

England v Slovenia 06.23.10

Live in the US on espn2 at 10am ET

Guess at the line-ups:
Johnson Upson Terry ACole
Lennon Lampard Barry Gerrard
Defoe Rooney

Brecko Mavric Cesar Jokic
Birsa Radosavljevic Koren Kirm

Group C Points Goal Diff Goals Scored
Slovenia 4 +1 3
United States 2 0 3
England 2 0 1
Algeria 1 -1 0

So, good World Cup so far, huh? England certainly know how to keep it interesting, and I clearly don't mean on the field.

First, there's John Terry, under the impression he's still captain. Capello cut that nonsense off in the bud. But the Chelsea player made a few surprisingly coherent points amidst his grunting, impromptu coup, most importantly about the need to bring his ex-teammate Joe Cole back into the squad – a drum I've been beating since the opening game.

My guess is it comes down to Joe Cole versus Jermain Defoe. 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1. Either way, Heskey looks to be the player dropped, having been unable to get his strike partner into either match. But I'd be surprised if Capello went with Joe Cole after surprisingly ignoring him for the first two matches and now with Terry's ill-advised demand. Capello's not one for changing his mind or letting the inmates run the asylum. And there have been murmurs about Defoe's participation since the run-up to Algeria.

It's worth noting that Defoe scored – off the bench, mind you – against Slovenia in a friendly last September, with the other goal coming from Lampard's first-half spot kick. That day, Slovenia started the same XI which beat Algeria, while England were 4-2-3-1 with Rooney, Gerrard, and Wright-Phillips behind Heskey. And like tomorrow, Upson and Terry were the central defensive partnership, which will be the case now that England's on their fourth central defender following King's injury and Carragher's suspension.

If I had my way, it'd be Lampard making way for Joe Cole, with Defoe in place of Heskey, in the 4-4-2 Capello's seemingly preferred so far. Lampard's done little but get in Gerrard's way, adding nothing to either defense or attack. But Fat Frank's undroppable, and Capello will find a way to shoehorn both him and Gerrard into yet another formation.

Slovenia, meanwhile, will look a lot like they did against the US. Central defender Suler picked up a rib injury, likely to be replaced by Matej Mavric, but otherwise, I expect they'll stick with the 4-4-1-1 formation that saw them put two past the Americans in the first half.

The debate over tactics, however entertaining, is largely a red herring. England's current problem is England's usual problem. The team falls apart in the World Cup, unable to replicate the best moments from qualification with the pressure ramped up to 11. Rooney's been symptomatic of this: invisible for England, a shadow of the player that scored 34 goals for United this season, culminating with his TV camera tirade against the fans as he trudged off the Cape Town pitch last Friday. That, more than the line-up or tactics, is what needs fixing, and where Capello needs to prove worthy of his £6m yearly salary.

So much for an easy group, despite what that red-topped toilet paper announced oh so many months ago. Yet it's still easy enough that England can qualify for the knockout round with a win even though they've played maybe ten minutes of decent football during 180 minutes of World Cup action. Win, and all will be forgiven and forgotten. Win, and there's still a chance of completing heroics last seen more than 40 years ago.

'Just get through the group stage' is the mantra during every World Cup for a reason. It's a whole new tournament once we're down to 16 teams.

1 comment :

Earl said...

Good luck to you guys, I really hope you make it through. Feels like you're due. As much as I would enjoy "Brave" John Terry scoring an own goal or getting torched, I would still rather see England win.

Heading to the bar, I'll do a pregame shot of Jameson for Stevie. Frequently works when he's wearing red.