By Mark Duckworth of The National Game
“We’ve seen it all before” the famous line from the England football song Three Lions, and on Friday night that is what we got as England stumbled to a nil-nil draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
The impressive table mountain provides the back drop to Cape Town and with the flanking peaks of Devils Peak and Lions Head you would have thought England would have wanted to play football to match its surroundings. Instead it stuttered out onto the pristine pitch of the Green Point Stadium and simply bottled-it in front of almost a full house in Cape Town. The draw doesn’t mark the end of England’s World Cup campaign, but it looks mighty close.
The pre- and post-match talk was dominated by Capello’s team selection and his handling of the Robert Green situation. With regard to Green, if Capello thinks he isn’t mentally tough enough then he was right to drop him, and with the rumors of another blunder in training then it seems Capello got that right. David James was also arguably England’s best player on the night; he looked calm under pressure and saved England from what could have been the end of a World Cup dream as he cleared what was a terrible back pass from John Terry.
Capello took some criticism for his team selection after the 1-1 draw against the United States in Johannesburg, and on Friday night came under more fire, especially with the way he used his substitutions. Only he will know why he brought on Peter Crouch for seven minutes. Crouch has, at the moment, the best strike rate of any England striker in South Africa, and yet Capello still refuses to use the Tottenham front man. Let’s hope he learns quickly, and we see the target-man starting on Wednesday. Crouch may have only been on the pitch for seven minutes, but he still managed to take on his defender, which was more than some of his teammates did.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, consistently the best players in the Premier League, and yet for England they don’t seem to click. While the Algerian midfield had bite and passion, England’s heart barely had a murmur. This has to be Capello’s biggest concern. Yes they may be playing out of position, but they’re all professional footballers and the ability to adapt shouldn’t be a problem. If you look at Brazil, its players constantly change positions, while combining it with good football. You may not get the best out of Gerrard on the left wing, but Capello should be able to rely on him actually playing out there instead of constantly cutting inside and making the pitch smaller. Capello’s decision on Gerrard could define the reign of a manager that only a few months ago the whole nation was backing, and now, in typical English fashion, the media knives are out for the Italian.
4,5,1 or 4,4,2 the debate will continue long after the finals in South Africa, and it’s in these two formations that England has to find a way to win. The preferred choice seems to be the one of 4, 5, 1 with Rooney the lead role and Gerrard just behind him.
Can this work well with the form Rooney is in? I don’t actually think so, and the more the Manchester United front man moans about it, the more you see the wrong side of Rooney’s game. Rooney came into this World Cup with all the hype and expectation, but he has failed to match the billing. He may not be fully fit, but that alone cannot justify his dire performance on Friday night.
So will it fall back to 4,4,2 with a partner for the mis-firing Wayne Rooney, well that depends on the partner, Emile Heskey has done well in what he has been asked to do, but he lacks that bit of quality you sometimes need to win a game. Jermaine Defoe, had a brilliant start to the season, but the goals have dried up, and so has his confidence; this was the most evident aspect of his game in Cape Town. Crouch, the English goal machine, will Capello finally see sense and give him his chance to shine in South Africa.
These two weeks have been Capello’s worst as England manager. Let’s hope this week gets better for the Italian and the Three Lions, or it could become a very long summer for the English football fans. History tells us to learn from our mistakes and in Italia 90 we drew our first two games, but we know how that finished. Let’s hope we can write our own 2010 South Africa happy ending.
Mark Duckworth is contributing writer to the National Game. His column appears with written consent.