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[Editor’s note: for a minute-by-minute live blog report of the England-Croatia game, see this post]
One word: Nightmare. On the night of the most important games for England in recent years they bottled it. A gutless and nervy performance from every player. They gave it away all throughout the game and constantly played long balls up-field to Crouch who nodded it on for no body to get onto. Where was the player I said should have been playing just behind him?
The second half performance was better after Beckham and Defoe were introduced to the game. Defoe was making the runs and Beckham was getting the balls in…for a very short period only. They were all just too nervous and never controlled the game. Despite the Croatians already qualifying for Euro 2008 they still played as if they wanted it more and simply outclassed England.
Israel had done England the biggest favour any nation could at the weekend after beating Russia. Did England go out and fight for it, proving the critics wrong booking themselves into next year’s championships? Did they hell! They always gave it away at the key moment and couldn’t handle the Croats counter attacks (which were dangerous every single time.) They outclassed us in every part of the field; their passing — clinical; their finishing — crucial; defensively — experts. Some times in football the best form of attack is defence and they proved that tonight. Slaven Bilic used to be a defender in his playing days so the way he’s organised the back is superb.
In my previous article for SL, “Who should start for England“, I wrote that despite Paul Robinson’s calamities for the Three Lions recently, starting the game with Scott Carson would be a massive call. The lad had never played a home game for England so why, why, WHY should he start this one…the most important of England games!? I admit I was surprised to see McClaren had chosen Carson to start: I didn’t think he had the balls to make a decision like that. A decision which no doubt will cost him his job. Good. I didn’t think he had the credentials to manage the team in the first place and never thought he was right for the task.
Carson’s role tonight was inexcusable. He was at total fault for the first goal. A lack of concentration saw a long range effort, which should have been dealt with easily, bounce into the net. All he had to do was get his whole body behind it. After conceding that goal England’s heads dropped and they found themselves on the back foot the rest of the game. The second goal wasn’t his fault, it was the England defence’s. They allowed the Croats too much time and after Eduardo’s exquisite through ball several of them didn’t even follow the runner, playing for the offside instead. Major error.
As gutted as I am to say it, England will not be in Euro 2008 and will have no-one to blame but themselves. The worst result of the rollercoaster campaign was the 0-0 draw at home to Macedonia. How can that score line be justified? England need to move on from this quickly and most importantly learn from it. There are serious lessons to be learnt and much reflection needs to be done. Fair enough, in tonight’s game England were missing Terry, Ferdinand, Rooney and Owen, but it’s not an excuse. They still had the players capable of going out there and getting a draw, at the very least. In all honesty, the reality of it is that right now, England needed this kick up the ass. The way they played throughout much of the campaign, they didn’t deserve to qualify. Now England fans must decide what to do next summer and McLaren has to be considering his future, which surely won’t involve England anymore.