After seeing Joe Cole score a goal which surely will be a contender for goal of the tournament, and generally a pretty good forty five minutes of football, it was beginning to look like maybe England could put their dismal performances in the first two games behind them. Of course it could be said that Owen’s injury after a couple of minutes was a bad omen for what was to follow, but I disagree. There’s no point England relying on a striker who, if we’re honest, was never going to make the grade this tournament. Quality player, but no one battling with injury, who’s been out for the best part of a season, is going to make the difference England need. (the sad thing for Owen, however, is that he left Real Madrid to join lowly Newcastle to make sure he took part in this World Cup. Things have just gone from bad to worse for him since he left Liverpool.)

After Sweden equalised, without really breaking in to a sweat, it was clear England fans’ hope had been unfairly raised. Allback had a free header, Beckham the closest player to him, which Robinson got nowhere near. Where were the defenders? For a long while we’ve looked at England’s midfield, Cole, Gerrard, Lampard and Beckham scratching our heads. How come four great players are useless when they play together? Now we can say the same thing about our defence. Granted, it wasn’t the first choice back four, with Nev’s absence, (Carragher, not a natural full back by any means, filling the gap) and Rio substituted for the useless Sol. But there’s no excuse for the defensive errors in this game.

England take the lead again, with a move inspired by the impressive Cole, who was easily our best player on the pitch, which was finished by the otherwise invisible Gerrard. Totally undeserved, and although England fans around the country may have breathed a sigh of relief, it was only justice that Sweden equalised again. They had bombarded the England goal, with one chance coming back off the woodwork, with several other great opportunities to score. If we thought the defending was bad for the first goal, then we were not at all prepared for what was about to happen. Sweden practically threw the ball in to Robinson’s net, Larsson nudging it in. First over Terry‘s head, then past Sol’s flailing leg.

Aside from the defence, there are several reasons for this England team falling to pieces. Yes, they qualified top of the group, but if they play that way against any half decent team, they’ll be utterly humiliated.

Gerrard and Lampard. For some reason, unbeknown to us all, Gerrard and Lampard, two award winning players this season, look like they would do well to fit in to Portsmouth’s midfield based upon their performances for England, in this tournament and for years prior. “They are too similar”, “their egos are too big” etc. but the latest excuse for them not working is Beckham. Gerrard, apparently, has had a training ground bust up with Beckham over his long balls. It could be argued Beckham plays them out of the game with his long balls and I’m sure there are plenty of people who will support that argument. In my opinion, that’s bullshit. Beckham is a pretty one dimensional player, but if Gerrard and Lampard provided him with other alternatives, I dunno, like charging at the box, scoring hatfuls of goals, providing goals for others, then maybe Beckham wouldn’t have to keep lobbing it to our friendly giant up front.

Gary Neville. United fans, for the most part, seem to be the only people who rate Neville highly. I think everyone else thinks it’s a coincidence no one has come close to displacing him from the most successful team throughout the 90s first XI. It’s probably also a coincidence that in the history of English football, only 8 players have been capped more than him. Or maybe we can look at Gary Neville realistically, who has spent years bombing down that right wing alongside Becks, crossing the ball, launching throw ins in to the six yard box and being one of England (and United’s) most consistent players. He rarely has a phenomenal game, just as he rarely has a bad game, but more often than not he’s good, and you can rely on him. No disrespect to Carragher, who has had a great season for the dippers, but he’s no right back, and his ability to go forward and cross is not good enough.

Essentially though, as much as we can look at individuals players, and see their faults, and see where more is expected of them, to a certain extent, I think it’s unfair to put all of the blame on their shoulders. Is it Carragher’s fault he’s not a great full back, or is it Sven’s fault for not taking someone like Wes Brown who could easily fit in to that position? Is it Crouch’s fault he’s not a prolific goalscorer, or is it Sven’s fault for not taking Bent or Defoe, who have good goalscoring records, and experience? Is it Gerrard and Lampard’s fault they can’t play together, or Sven’s for not finding a formation where they can work, or finding an alternative to the Gerrard-Lampard central midfield?

Any chance Scholesy will come out of international retirement? 😉

Agree? Disagree? Any other comments? Talk about it on the Republik of Mancunia Forum