If we thought the bell ringer at Portsmouth was annoying, our irritation has reached new bounds with the constant echo of horns (or vuvuzels) at the stadiums in South Africa. It is however a frustration we will have to bear for the duration of the tournament so there is little point in dwelling or letting the horns get the better of us!
Saturday saw two of the pre-tournament favourites begin their campaign in England and Argentina, with starkly contrasting performances. It is difficult to contemplate how England were so poor. Lets be honest here; USA are no great shakes and are a workmanlike side with precious little going forward. Their three best players are Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Londan Donavan; decent players but hardly people who would strike fear into the best teams in the world.
It was astonishing how flat and average England were throughout and they made USA look better than they actually are. It almost seemed that scoring that goal early on was the worst thing that could have happened to them as they more or less immediately began playing cagey football and looked to be playing completely within themselves. This England side, like so many others in recent times, looked to be plagued by fear. It was almost as if they were trying to protect a one goal lead against an average side when scoring after just 15 minutes. Realistically, they should have pressed on and finished the game.
Some people suggest this negativity is Capello’s influence but it could be more a cultural deficiency which is borne from the tabloid media in England. The Sunday tabloid papers will unmercifully rip Green to shreds and he will not be allowed forget about the mistake in the terraces come August. The English side seemed more frightened of losing than confident of winning. Whether this is simply first game jitters remains to be seen.
It was a howler from Green of catastrophic proportions but it shouldn’t mask the other obvious problems scattered across the English general play. Yesterday confirmed that Lampard and Gerrard don’t operate well together as a midfield duo. That’s not to say they couldn’t be effective in the same team but not as a central pairing. They didn’t control the tempo of the game, break up the USA’s play well and provided no real service of note to their best player in Rooney. The United striker looked good when he got the ball but he wasn’t provided with one real chance against a team they should be dominating. England need to alter their system and get Gareth Barry into their team to provide a solid base and free up Gerrard and Lampard to have more roaming roles as it seems hugely unlikely either players won’t be picked. A 4-3-3 seems a better option with Heskey losing out and Joe Cole coming in to support Rooney along with Aaron Lennon.
The inevitable loss of Ledley King to injury has propelled Jamie Carragher into the centre-half role and this spells danger for England. After seeing him outpaced by Altidore, you shudder to think what Villa and Torres would do to him.
This is not a complete disaster for England and they could very feasibly still go on to win the group. However they certainly didn’t stamp their authority on the World Cup and the Spains and Brazils of this world will not be quaking in their boots on the back of this performance.
Argentina on the other hand looked more impressive and consistently dangerous and inventive. The one-nil victory didn’t reflect their dominance and the Nigerian goal keeper Enyeama produced some outstanding saves to keep Nigeria in it. Argentina didn’t exactly steamroll the Nigerians but showed enough glimpses to put themselves in contention as potential winners. Messi looks in good form and dangerous and this will worry anybody who comes in their path. He has the potential to steer Argentina the whole way.
South Korea also produced a great win over the Greeks but in truth Greece looked very poor and will do well to record a point.
We’re off and running and we’ve only seen a glimpse of what is to come. One thing is for certain: England will need to play an awful lot better if they are to make an impact at this World Cup.