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Friday, June 18, 2010

Over-Rated!

Posted by on Fri, Jun 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

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RICHMOND, VA—Insipid, lacking belief, out of ideas, toothless, timid. All those words at the moment appear to be the answer to this riddle: what happens when you cross a bunch of English soccer players with Italian "tactical guile"?

Merry old England made a mockery of Henry V, St. George and for that matter Bobby Charlton and Stuart Pearce with a frankly sad display against Algeria, hardly mustering a meaningful strike at goal over the 90 minutes.

What was sad about is not that England has poor players—they have very good players—, but rather a) the seeming lack of drive and self-belief that traditionally marked previous England teams and b) the woeful under-achievement of big, big players who are major stars for some of the world's biggest clubs. Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney—where were they today? All looked shadows of themselves, especially Rooney. Gerrard did some good things, but repeatedly passed up chances to strike at goal when inside the box. He should have taken a page from Landon Donovan's book—earlier in the day Donovan single-handedly reversed American fortunes by having the guts to blast the ball as hard as he could from an angle you're not expected to score from.

To be fair, a couple of players for England don't deserve the brunt of criticism that will come their way in the next few days. Emile Heskey battled and did alright. His only problem is that he's, well, Emile Heskey. Shaun Wright-Phillips came off the bench and immediately won some fouls and corner kicks. Maybe he and Lennon need to start on opposite flanks against Slovenia to inject a bit of life into proceedings.

Not all cultural combinations work. The premise that England needs a continental coach is widely accepted, on Fabio Capello's efficient guidance of the English through qualification earned him a lot of deference from the press. And really, I don't think this is about him per se. It's about the fact that England's players don't seem all that fired up about the World Cup. You've got Stuart Pearce sitting there on the bench, tamed by responsibility (he is assistant coach)—maybe he needs to let his hair down and have a proper Psycho go at the team.

The 0-0 result between Algeria and England is great news for the U.S., because it means the Yanks unconditionally qualify with a win over Algeria, and could now even qualify (at England's expense) with a draw. As to the erstwhile mother country, they need to pull out their Kenneth Branagh videos or whatever it takes to get back the old spirit. Otherwise, their World Cup will be over very soon.

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