Armchair Pundit

Where did it all go wrong?

Alex Chick

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On the bright side, a depressing loss is marginally better than a heartbreaking loss.

And at least England's atrocious defending lessened the significance of Frank Lampard's absurdly disallowed goal - fingers crossed it will not get as many replays as the Hand of God, Gazza's tears or David Seaman watching a Ronaldinho lob sail over his head.

But England's 4-1 capitulation against Germany provides more questions than answers. Let's try and make sense of it all.

Why can't our players perform at the World Cup like they do in the Premier League?
This was the question posed repeatedly by BBC commentator Guy Mowbray when Rooney, Gerrard and company toiled in vain going forward. But England's real problem is that they DID play like a Premier League side, especially in defence. People love English football because it is chock-full of action and mistakes, and physical power is prized above technical ability. England were tactically moronic in the second half, throwing players forward with no thought to the consequences. Inter Milan might not be the biggest crowdpleasers, but would they have conceded any of the four goals England did? Absolutely not. John Terry and Matthew Upson's defensive clowning was pure Premier League.

But what about the midfielders? Why didn't they perform?
You cannot expect Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to both recreate their 20-goals-a-season club form for England, because they are the undisputed kingpins for Chelsea and Liverpool. Lampard is used to playing in a central midfield trio, while Gerrard is certainly not shunted out on to the left at Anfield. Most importantly of all, they are both surrounded by quality team-mates, most of them foreign. Look at how Gerrard's form dipped after the brilliant passer Xabi Alonso left Liverpool. England do not have a Xabi Alonso. On this tournament's evidence, they don't even have a Lucas Leiva.

Why didn't Capello change the formation?
Look at the CV. Serie A titles with AC Milan, Roma and Juventus, two Liga titles with Real Madrid, and a Champions League. All won playing 4-4-2. Unpopular as it is, the formation is not fatally flawed - you can win lots of stuff if you have the right players playing it the right way. Which is precisely what England had during a brilliant qualifying campaign. You might argue Croatia and Ukraine are not as good as Germany, but if 4-4-2 could overcome those two sides, why not USA or Algeria? Also, most proponents of the 4-2-3-1, with Wayne Rooney playing on his own up front, had Joe Cole in their first XI. Yet Cole, while undoubtedly a fans' favourite, did very little during his appearances in the tournament.

Wouldn't it have helped Rooney?

The formation was not to blame for Rooney's woes. It wasn't like he showed flashes of brilliance, or kept getting possession in the wrong part of the pitch. He was total rubbish in every aspect of his game. Putting him on his own up front wasn't going to solve that. This is the same man who spent a season on the left wing for Manchester United, won the Premier League and Champions League, and was roundly praised for his versatility. He has also played plenty of games in a front two with Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Emile Heskey for that matter. 4-2-3-1 might have been the right formation, but don't blame 4-4-2 for the Rooney debacle.

Just how bad was Rooney?
Here are some stats (courtesy of Optajoe)
-Rooney has failed to score in his last nine games for England, his longest barren run for the national team.
-Rooney has lost the ball by being tackled in possession 32 times,  more often than any other player at the 2010 World Cup.
-Rooney completed only 55 per cent of his passes for England against Germany - the lowest rate in the game.
This wasn't just a star player failing to live up to his billing. This was one of the best players in the world playing like one of the worst.

What if Frank Lampard's goal had stood?

Given the abject nature of England's performance, it is tempting to think all Lampard's goal would have done is make it 4-2 instead of 4-1. But as sickening a cliche as it may be, goals do indeed change games. At two apiece, both teams would have changed their approach - most importantly England would not have over-committed and made themselves so vulnerable to counter-attack. And even a team less mentally fragile than England could be forgiven if they felt a bit discouraged after they put the ball a yard over the line and had the goal chalked off. The goal came just after Matthew Upson's goal during England's best spell of dominance - for 90 glorious seconds we looked like contenders. After referee Larrionda and his team's blunder, England were never the same again.

Were Germany even that good?
Well, they took their chances with aplomb, but England did not make them work hard for them. Four separate doses of awful defending led to the German goals. In general play, England had more possession and more shots on target, but you would need a particularly warped mindset to argue that they actually deserved to win. And as any German will tell you, tournament football is about beating the team opposite you on the day - they did that with ease. Argentina might be a tougher proposition, though.

Should we be surprised?

Probably not. England always lose against the first top nation they encounter at World Cups, although they usually keep it closer than they did today. Here are the teams England have beaten at World Cups since 1986: Poland, Paraguay, Egypt, Belgium, Cameroon, Tunisia, Colombia, Argentina (the notable exception), Denmark, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Slovenia. The teams who have knocked us out? Argentina, West Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Germany. Does that really sound like a team that should have started as favourites in Bloemfontein?

So what now?

Even though England's so-called Golden Generation was pronounced dead at 10 to five, it may well be that not much changes. The European Championship is only two years away, and it is highly unlikely that Terry (29), Gerrard (30) and Lampard (32) will just jack in international football. More worryingly, it's not like there is a bumper crop of young players waiting to step up. Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell look the only members of the current Under-21 side with genuine international ability. That said, it is unlikely we will see any of James, Terry, Upson, Carragher, King, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole, Barry, Crouch or Heskey in Brazil in 2014.

And the manager?

There was much rejoicing last month when Capello removed a clause allowing either him or the FA to get out of his contract without compensation. At the time, it looked like a show of commitment - now it looks like a superb ruse to ensure a £6 million pay-off if the FA sack him. Capello has said he will not resign, but is to hold crisis talks with the FA, and the bookies have him odds-on to go. It is a strange one alright. After cruising through qualifying, Capello has done worse than Sven-Goran Eriksson at the World Cup, and presided over an unhappy and underperforming squad. His reputation has taken an absolute battering, and his claim that England "played a good game" against Germany will not help. Neither will his borderline treasonous decision to bring on Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips when England were 4-1 down.

Now, let's set aside the England inquest for a couple of weeks and enjoy watching some other, better teams, battle it out for the World Cup. It will be fun.

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