BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

These days are rare.

In league football every season the top teams are guaranteed at least two games against each other – Liverpool and Everton, Bayern Munchen and 1860 – they play with a metronomic regularity. They are the touch stones of a season.

In international football though it is chance and not eventuality which presses teams together. The luck of the draw so to speak and it is possible for any two nations to go years without the prospect of playing each other emerging. Seeding adds to this – although England’s 5-1 win over Germany in September 2001 was the result of the nation being placed second – and the result is that these clashes are more exciting because of their scarcity.

It is twenty years since England met Germany in Rome for a place in the World Cup final. Gazza’s tears – along with Hillsborough redefined football in England – but the Germans took a win on penalties as they did six years later in the semi-finals of Euro 96 at Wembley. The English fixation with penalties comes from these two moment.

Four years later and in an ill fated group for both Alan Shearer gave England a 1-0 victory the bragging rights for which lasted only a few months until the final game at Wembley gave the Germans a 1-0 victory with Didi Harmann’s free kick settling the day.

The last time the game met anything the Germans took the lead in minutes, England had won by the hour. 5-1. It was the making of a generation. The making of Michael Owen, of David Beckham, of Steven Gerrard.

The Germans have started World Cup 2010 well but fell off with a loss to Serbia that was put down to a sending off for Miroslav Klose – who returns today – but the 1-0 win over Ghana was not convincing.

Unconvincing describes England’s progress with draws against USA and Algeria giving way to a 1-0 win over Slovenia which deserved a better scoreline based on the performance and allows Fabio Capello to pick an unchanged team.

These days are rare and to be savoured. Many nations, many players will never play in a game such as this and in the life of a supporter who often will these days come? Four, five, a half dozen? For the players think not or the rewards of success or the fear of failure but rather the joy of participation. The biggest game – so far – of the biggest event in the World. It is why boys kick balls against walls until the day goes dark, in every country.

The last time England played Germany in the World Cup nothing in football was ever the same again.

Breath, it is baited.

Baited and breathed as a good English start is countered by a goal from Klose which goes from the hands of keeper Manuel Neuer – between John Terry and Matthew Upson and is poked past David James for an opening goal. The Germans are calm, England begin to flounder and the problems of players no performing roles emerges once more.

Steven Gerrard is idling on the left and lets Mesut Özil wander past him leaving the English with one too few defending players. A ball flipped over to Lukas Podolski – given the freedom of the penalty area with Glenn Johnson’s being pulled over to cover Gerrard’s inaction – fires home a second.

England are sparked into life and Gerrard whips a fine delivery to Matthew Upson who makes good some static defending which has seen David James called to make some fine stops and heads in from close range. Within a minute Frank Lampard has hit a shot that beats Neuer bouncing down off the bar and a meter over the line before being pulled away.

Referee Jorge larrionda and his linesman Mauricio Espinosa ignored the goal – and a goal it was – and with that the game would never be the same. The English celebrated but the game continued. It was as bad a mistake as the men from Uruguay officiating the game could have made and on it the game turned.

The second half was but two incidents. Lampard pile drove one free kick against the bar and from another the Germans broke to score one of take counter-attacking Thomas Müller goals which coloured a scoreline already perverted.

The Germans move on and will count good fortune while the English will – as it usual – rips themselves to shreds. The decision is a blight on the game and a scar on the World Cup. The English need to press the game at 2-1 causing a lopsided scoreline. Knockout football is about winning and few should blame Fabio Capello’s side for going after an equaliser that would stick although many will.

The Germans take praise for a performance that saw them pick off the holes that came when England came forward – the two counter attacks that polished the scoreline were clinical – and more so for being able to pick holes in that defence finding the gaps that were caused by ill discipline in the midfield and back line. They are a young side but have quality and a way of playing which could see them do the same to the notoriously weak defenders of Argentina or Mexico.

For England though the ramifications will be more significant than they should be but ramifications there should be. Since the emergence of Wayne Rooney England have had a problem balancing the fact that Gerrard and Lampard both like to come out of the midfield and the forward likes to fall back and as a result of this three men in one zone problem the team is neutered.

Gerrard’s effectiveness on on the left is reduced and one worries that a talented English player has been lost to trying to fit him into curious positions while Lampard – for his many attributes – is not a player able to perform in the formation which Capello has made a career of playing. As the Germans deployed two holding players and three forward midfielders one had to look at Capello’s intractability in his decision to bring only one deep sitting midfielder and his dedication to the 442 formation.

Not that the solution to these problems was to deploy Gerrard behind Rooney as some would have it – that still retains the problem with Lampard wanting to come into Rooney/Gerrard’s position – but with the players that Capello ultimately decided to take with him and their unsuitability to the formation he wanted to play. Capello’s Real Madrid and AC Milan two deep midfielder, two fast wide men, a drop off striker and a goalscoring striker are not represented in the eleven he sent out for England. Capello’s winning sides would never have included a Lampard.

The Italian fails in the final big test of his career and the failure is his own, although he will look back to Lampard’s shot and how with parity at half time his side would not have had to chase the game, not have been counter attacked, not have ended up seething with a rage of injustice. One wonders if it will be this, rather than the problems with selection and trying to force those selections into a formation which troubles Capello in the coming days.

A note though for anyone suggesting though that the failure of the English came in not topping the group and thus facing Ghana and then a South American side.

England were – in a sense – knocked out by a team of Uruguayan and while the game passes into football’s history this game pivoted entirely on that moment.


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