England 2-3 Croatia, England not going to Euro 2008

Watch England v Croatia live online.

England 2-3 Croatia – and England are now out of Euro 2008.

Full-Time Report: The dissection can be spared for tomorrow morning (honestly, nothing new to be said, England haven’t learned from their mistakes). Croatia, to a man, played well and did their job.

England had Richards, Lescott and Campbell and SWP do well, but to be honest the midfield was horrible, and Crouch, who deserves a lot of credit for his goal, was pushed off the ball too easily too many times and couldn’t outjump his markers.

Feel free to criticise in the comments – remember that Macca has said that he won’t quit if England didn’t qualify, and now that England are not going to Euro 2008, they must plan for South Africa 2010. With 2 and a half years to go, certainly it’s time to pick a new squad?

FT: The time to point fingers will come soon enough…Russia beat Andorra 1-0, it’s all over folks.

FT: It’s all over. Boos drown the cheers from the Croatian crowd, England are out of it, players are crestfallen.

Credit to Croatia for their excellent qualification run.

92: Carson passes the ball out, another long-range punt, another lost ball.

91: …And the break almost leads to a Croatian goal. 90 seconds to go.

90: Beckham corner…

89: Priceless comment on the guardian live blog (and I paraphrase): England’s fortunes are now in the hands of Tottenham’s 3rd and 4th choice forwards and Liverpool’s 4th choice forward.

88: Carson gets into the act, hoofin it deeping into the Croatian half. Care to guess the outcome?

86: England still hoofing, Croatia easily clearing and counter-attacking. The game is far more open now, and England are seeing more space in the Croatian defence.

85: Money shot of Prince William wiping his nose. Oh, and Bent with a half-chance, over the top, barely.

84: I can understand it if people say that England have missed Rooney / Owen / Terry / Rio, but Heskey? Give me a fuckin break.

83: It’s down to the players now – nothing that tactical brilliance can do – England players – cliched though it sounds – need to pull off something special.

80: England manage to get out of their own half but quickly lose possession again.

79: Bent ready to come on. Replaces Joe Cole. Finally.

78: Chances of England losing 4-2? Remember, England scored when I said their chances were about the same as a Macca-led England winning a major competition. Does lightening strike twice in the same game?

77: CROATIA GOAL – Petric scores, Gerrard could have closed him down before he took the shot, out of position and a defensive midfielder might have stopped him, too late now, 3-2 to Croatia, Bent, if he comes on, might change things.

76: Where’s Stevie G? Oh wait, there he is, trying to win a free kick.

74: Tugging, flailing elbows and head-butting between Lampard and Srna, but the referee wisely allows the game to go on by coming in between the two players and not blowing the whistle. Good refereeing so far, IMO, and of course I’m not going to complain about the penalty.

72: England are playing with more purpose, fighting that bit harder for every 50-50 challenge.

70: England win a free kick, David Beckham takes…and it’s cleared, after some ping-pong in the box.

69: England DID score through Crouch, mind you, but not really a lob as much as a perfect cross. Beckham and Defoe have now both earned their subs, and Macca’s two subs have worked fantastically.

68: A word for Lescott, Campbell and Richards – they’ve done well considering the circumstances.

67: He could replace Gerrard or Lampard. Either would do, honestly. I’d pull off Cole and push Gerrard to the left if necessary.

66: At this point, we definitely need Hargreaves on the pitch. Not to sit back and defend, mind you, but to hold the fort when we go forwards because England need a 3rd goal and if Croatia score late, it’s really all over.

65: ENGLAND GOAL! – Crouch scores. Beckham floats in an inch-perfect cross, Crouch with sapce, controls the ball on his chest and puts the ball past the keeper. GAME ON!

64: And now we’re lobbing it forward for David Beckham…back passes, lack of vision when going forward, etc etc – if this sounds trite it’s because England’s problems haven’t been fixed in ages.

63: A Wayne Bridge defensive error allows Olic through on to Carson, the Villa keeper saves down to his right.

62: How can England score without diving or lobbing it up to Crouch?

61: Time for a 3rd sub.

59: England pile forward again. Another penalty? Surely not.

58: Corner taken, lightening reflexes by Carson to save on the goalline.

58: Olic tries to chip Carson, the ball kisses the top bar. Corner given, looks like it was touched by Bridge before going out.

57: We needed something special to get this game going, and Defoe has provided that. At least the Tottenham striker has earned the sub. Can the other 10 players do their bit?

56: ENGLAND GOAL – Lampard takes, Lampard scores, 1-2 to England.

55: Referee gives a penalty! Defoe dives – he was pulled back by Siminic but the defender had let go before Defoe realised that he had to dive.

54: Now that the second half is 9 minutes old, it’s worth noting that SWP’s absence has robbed England of pace, while Barry’s absence (and the lack of a central replacement for him) has shot England of control in midfield.

52: Odds on England scoring? About the same as those of a McClaren-led England winning a tournament.

46: Someone teach Stevie Gerrard to pass so that England can keep possession and not lose it. Maybe I can send him a training video?

45: And Croatia kick off. Can Beckham save the day (I was putting money on SWP / Richards but SWP is out…).

Actual Subs: Defoe on for Barry, Beckham on for SWP. What the hell? England’s best midfield player has been taken off.

Suggested Substitutions: Hargreaves for Barry (and get him to SIT BACK), Beckham for J Cole (SWP goes left) and Bent for Gerrard (reduces emphasis on indivdual heroics and forces the team to play together – I doubt Gerrard can win a penalty AND win a free kick from where he can score a spectacular free kick).

Half-Time Update: Full credit to Croatia – they sat back, soaked up the England pressure and got in two great counter-attacks where Scott Carson made costly blunders and the England midfield haven’t had the creativity nor the defensive solidity to make any dent into Croatia’s game plan.

England had 3 good chances, 2 straight at the keeper and one where Peter Crouch, tallest man on the pitch, was outjumped by his marker. It’s been a game of ‘taking your chances’, and it’s nothing new where England are concerned.

We’ve cried ourselves hoarse talking about the lack of creativity and tactical discipline in England, and in the game where it mattered most, those qualities have gone missing. SWP and Richards (and Lescott) have done well, let’s see who Macca brings on to change things now.

HT: England are booed off the pitch. Halftime review coming up in a bit.

44: Beckham, Hargreaves and Bent – this game can still be won.

42: Carson spills a shot again, luckily no-one’s nearby.

41: England’s midfield is to blame here – their over-commitment to attack leaves the defence exposed (and Barry is NOT sitting back like he should) and Croatia are finding it easy to pick gaps and make one-on-one (or three-on-three) situations.

39: Short passing. Move forward together. We now need to win (Russia are now 1-0 up at Andorra).

37: Steven Gerrard refuses to pass the ball, takes on the whole Croatian defence and then complains when his dive doesn’t win a free-kick.

34: Half-decent free-kicks, and then a chance for a header in front of goal for Crouch, and he fails to outjump the defender, who’s probably 6 inches short than him. THAT’S why we pick him, folks.

31: Bent sits back down, Macca’s not interested, apparently. England win a free-kick, will they do better this time?

30: Darren Bent is warming up. Doubt he’ll come on before half-time though. At this point I’d take Gerrard off…yes, I’m that desperate for a goal. Russia still haven’t scored.

25: Croatia now slowly building up momentum, taking more and more control of the game. Possession so far had been overwhelmingly in England’s favor but Croatia are more than holding their own now.

24: So what now for McClaren? Does he have the guts to pull off his star players (Joe Cole, Lampard, Gerrard – any two of 3 will do)? 4-5-1 was good for a defensive, counter-attacking win but after being stunned by Croatia, how will Macca change England?

22: At the moment, with the Andorra-Russia game still at 0-0, England are still going through.

21: And nothing comes out of it. England are still in Croatia’s half, they’re just being nullified because of some solid defending and a hopeless lack of inspiration.

19: Stevie G does what he does best – wins a free kick outside the Croatian box.

18: No, seriously, Beckham to the rescue, a la 2001? I’m out of ideas, and I don’t think any of the players on the pitch, with due respect to Gerrard, is capable of such a moment. Ok, Stevie G might, but with Owen and Rooney injured and Becks not fit enough to play, what’s the option?

16: We’ve talked about England lacking creativity – right now SWP and Richards are the only two players offering that.

15: Two quick counter-attacks, two defensive errors, two goals. England are in hell – the only ray of hope is that Hargreaves, Beckham and Bent could still come on to change the game – yea, I wish.

14: CROATIA GOAL! – oh dear, I picked the wrong game to blog live. Smart work by Eduardo to release Oliv, England defence think it’s offside and stop, Olic rounds Carson and taps it in.

13: Good work by SWP to release Micah Richards into the Croatian box but good defending and solid keeping keeps them out.

12: Gerrard needs to stop playing the long-ranged passes. Crouch is too light-weight for the Croatian defence.

10: Excellent chance for SWP, gets the ball in the box and a free shot, straight to the keeper. That had 1-1 written all over it. Wembley had gone quiet after Kranjcar’s goal but are now piping up again.

8: CROATIA GOAL – is this Robinson in disguise? Punt from afar was supposed to be an easy catch by Carson but it bounced just in front of him, pulled his eyes away and spilled it, ball rolls in. So much for inspired changes, eh?

7: Someone tell Lampard, Barry and co. that long-range punts up front aren’t going to work. Neither are petty fouls, that England were committing at the start.

4: Croatia look assured on the pitch – and despite the clarity of England’s intent, there’s no lightning smash n grab that England fans would have hoped.

2: A measured start – England keeping possession and probing from within their own half.

0: And we’re off.

T -1: England playing 4-1-4-1 – a fancy name for a plodding 4-5-1 with the midfield lacking any defensive bite or and cohesion in attack (except for Richards and SWP on the right, that is). Will Barry sit in his place and actually protect his defenders? How will Carson cope with playing behind a re-jigged defence in such a big game?

T -3: Prince William gets a chance to walk around on the pitch – gotta love tradition, eh?

T -4: With the drizzle, the poor condition of the pitch, and no real innovation in the England line up (come on, Gerrard and Lampard in midfield, again?), how bad can this match be?

T -6: The commentator thinks that England are *hot favourites* to go through. Oh bother, we’re in for a crap day of football commentary, aren’t we? There’s the usual praise of Steven Gerrard, and the players walk out.

T -10: Oh boy, here we go again…watching England play is always going to be an excellent reason for a nervous breakdown. Any suggestions?

England Lineup: Carson; Bridge, Lescott, Campbell, Richards; J Cole, Gerrard, Barry, Lampard, Shaun Wright-Phillips; Crouch.

Subs: Ashley Cole, David James, Brown, Hargreaves, Defoe, Beckham, Bent.

Croatia Lineup: Pletikosa, Corluka, Simic, Robert Kovac, Simunic, Srna, Modric, Nico Kovac, Kranjcar, Olic, Eduardo.

Subs: Runje, Rakitic, Babic, Knezevic, Leko, Petric, Pranjic.

England v Croatia Preview

The pitch at Wembley is crap, or so says Bilic. Wembley’s need to make money (thus the NFL game 3 weeks ago) has had a direct hand in creating this minor problem. Who will suffer more because of the pitch? England, because they’ll be nervous and edgy to begin with, and dealing with a surface that cuts up won’t help matters.

Macca has also dropped Robinson and Beckham from his starting lineup, and there’s no place for Hargo either. Here’s the expected starting lineup:

Richards, Campbell, Lescott, A Cole
SWP, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole

4-1-4-1, 4-5-1, 4-3-3, you decide.

The only thing I can say is – NOW you think of dropping Robinson? NOW? You bastard! Better late than never, I guess. Robinson’s confidence was shot a long time ago, he needs time off and Becks and Hargo aren’t fully fit to last 90 minutes at any rate.

And so it comes down to the final qualification game. 17 Nov threw up some expected results (media hype to the contrary, Israel are good at home, Russia aren’t that brilliant and no matter how ‘pumped up’ the Scots were, this is Italy after all) – Israel beating Russia in extra time to leave England needing just a point at Wembley and Italy beating Scotland away from home and securing passage to Austria / Switzerland.

Here we are, two and a half days before Macca and England play Croatia. The buildup is predictable – Croatia are the fancied unknown quantity, an impressive qualification record and that away defeat indicators that they might be better than England on the day.

So be it. This is no time to berate McClaren’s ancestors or discuss (with the inanity and sublime linkbaiting whore-ness that only a tabloid in disguise can fake) whether Gerrard should be dropped for Lampard (the 4-2-1-3 is not new, Richard, and it needs better players than Lampard, Joe Cole and SWP to master).

Interestingly enough, Macca says that he won’t quit if England fail to qualify for Euro 2008. In my view he should be going either way – England need a better manager if we want a shot at winning Euro 2008, and right now I’m sure trusting Macca with World Cup qualification is such a bright idea…

Can England beat Croatia?

This is where is gets interesting (no seriously) – let’s take a look at the players available:

England squad: Robinson, Carson, James, P Neville, Campbell, Richards, Brown, Lescott, Shorey, Bridge, A Cole, Beckham, Wright-Phillips, Bentley, Gerrard, Lampard, Hargreaves, Barry, J Cole, Downing, Young, Smith, Crouch, Defoe, Bent.

No Neville (do you remember him?), Terry, Rio, Carragher or Woodgate in defence. Expected to start are Richards, Lescott, Campbell and Ashley Cole.

In midfield Hargreaves is fit to start and with England playing at home we’re going with a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 – in either case, Gerrard will play. Joe Cole invariably gets a game (why?) and Lampard and Becks are also contenders for a starting berth.

Beckham / SWP, Gerrard, Hargreaves, Joe Cole OR Gerrard, Hargreaves, Lampard / Barry.

Crouch and Bent are the two strikers most likely to play – in a 4-4-2 those two would start automatically but I’m thinking that in the case of a 4-3-3 (most likely option), Crouch would start up front with SWP and Joe Cole flanking him.

England will score against Croatia, that I’m sure of. The big concern is the defence and their ability to withstand pressure. They couldn’t do it at home against Germany, they couldn’t do it against Croatia or Russia away, and without Rio or Terry it’s hard to see England not concede. Ideally Wes Brown should start at center-back (more experience than Lescott) with Campbell next to him, Richards on the right and Cole on the left. Macca will stick with Lescott though.


England win and qualify for Euro 2008.

Also See: Euro 2008 fixtures / results & Euro 2008 standings.

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