Where it All Went Wrong for England

Soccer - 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa - Group C - England v Algeria - Green Point Stadium

In short: Everywhere. Though that won’t do. England’s problems were numerous and solutions are not easy to come by. It’s best to look at the team and the manager as a whole.

Firstly, England played their usual tactics against Algeria who, in turn, played to stifle those tactics. With 3 central defenders and 3 central midfielders with 2 wing backs, England were always outnumbered in the opposition’s half. This left Heskey trying to win the ball and keep it against two dedicated defenders, sometimes 3. It was therefore impossible to perform his primary role as a target man. Without Heskey performing England’s tactics fell apart, he was then unable to bring Gerrard and Lampard into the game as England couldn’t retain possession for long enough. The commentators on ITV kept referring to Gerrard as ‘on the left’ but in reality his role was to roam to where he was needed. The problem with this was that because of Algeria’s tactics there was no space for him to exploit so he could exert no influence on the game.

Another key element of England’s plan were the full backs, with Gerrard moving infield against any other formation this would create space for Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon could create space for Glen Johnson. With an extra centre back at all times and two wing backs there was no space for the full backs to exploit, preventing England from having another option beyond lucky flicks from Heskey.

After the tactics failed England it fell on the shoulders of individual players to provide the spark that could create a goal from nothing. If the tactics did indeed fail the players failed much much more. It will continue to be a mystery how a team who played so well in Qualification could not play the fundamentals of football, often simple passes went astray and players who obstensibly have a good first touch failing to control the ball several times. It was an abysmal team performance with some questionable substitutions. With 60 minutes of dispiriting football played Fabio Capello replaced the ineffectual Aaron Lennon with the terrible Shaun Wright-Phillips in a change that failed to change anything. It wasn’t until the 74th minute that Heskey was finally taken off and things didn’t change by that point Algeria had become entrenched and England had become desperate.

With 180 minutes of the World Cup played the squad Capello was left with has been short on many things. One thing that hasn’t been commented on is the lack of a set-piece taker. In a game where a team is simply playing for the draw it often takes a set-piece to break the dead-lock. When England did force a free-kick or a corner in a dangerous position it was almost always wasted. In a way that never was when David Beckham was eligible. Without Beckham set-pieces have been a waste for England, neither Barry, Gerrard or Lampard (and they all tried) could provide a quality ball throughout the domestic season or qualification. So it was in Greenpoint too. Algeria, though mentioned briefly throughout here, have not been given credit much in the same way the Swiss were largely ignored in the Spanish story. Algeria played their tactics to perfection, in contrast to England their players performed above their level, played as a cohesive determined unit and caused some problems from Set Pieces.

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