A comfortable, confident home win for England. McClaren’s men were seldom worried; Israel did nothing to exploit that gap that opened sometimes in front of England defence and with a defend-first policy, they were always going to be losing.
The biggest positive out of England’s win was the assured performances of the players brought in – Michael Owen is improving with every game, Shaun Wright-Phillips is good enough to oust David Beckham, Gareth Barry has effectively eliminated Michael Carrick’s chances for the near future and Micah Richards is simply unbelievable.
Micah Richards – He’s just 19, which means he’ll be an integral part of this team for at least the next 10 years. He needs more experience to be considered a regular but all signs point to a bright future.
Shaun Wright-Phillips – A fast winger who can hug the touchline AND cut inside when necessary. England were missing Lennon but we don’t miss the Spurs man anymore thanks to SWP. SWP is more experienced than Lennon, but the sheer fact that we now have two young, quality right-wingers is cause for celebration.
Gareth Barry – To be honest, he wasn’t pushed by Israel and if there was ever going to be any game for him to stake his claim for England, a home game against Israel was it. It was good to see him minimise errors and lay on killer passes and assists for his team mates. Hargreaves will replace him, but Barry gives us depth and quality as well.
Ashley Cole – Always gives his 100% on the pitch and it showed in his willingness to overlap Joe Cole and go at it by himself on the left wing. He would do better with a regular winger ahead of him but he coped well.
Michael Owen – Finally got a goal, and a cracking one at that.
Lack of tactical discipline – the one or two times Israel burst through, England players were caught out of position. There was a situation early in the first half when Gerrard chased the ball to the right touchline, lost it, and left a gap open in central midfield ahead of Terry and Ferdinand that no one moved to fill (Barry was a bit up the field, SWP had followed Gerrard and Joe Cole was too far away). It’s a minor detail but it was this sort of small errors that led to that defeat against Germany. Not sure if Macca has it in him to drill tactics in his players – he might benefit from watch a video of the Italy vs France qualifier and learn from two smart coaches (or the recent Villa vs Liverpool and Villa vs Chelsea games).
Terry & Ferdinand – Excellent defenders but neither player does the ‘hatchetman’ job very well. At United Rio has Vidic diving in and doing the dirty work, at Chelsea Terry has Carvalho. Playing for England, these two often stay stranded in their positions allowing midfielders and strikers in front of them enough room to pass the ball around and thread it through. One of the two should be more aggressive and move in to clear the danger, or barring that Barry / Hargreaves should stay rooted in front of the defence (the way Carrick did it for United last season).
Joe Cole – He’s a fantastic player and one I like a lot. However, if he’s going to keep cutting in and not go down the wing, England are going to suffer against better teams.
Heskey – He did well, but here’s the thing. If you discount the need for ‘height’ up front, then you can have Richards / Rio / Terry be the muscle for dead-ball situations and have a fast, clinical finisher alongside Owen who can use his pace to unsettle defenders. It’s an alternative solution but not a bad one considering that England have only one proven tall striker (Crouch) and that Becks is now out as long as SWP keeps playing like this (so no big crosser there either).
Euro 2008 Qualifying, Group E Standings
Team, Played, Points
Croatia, 8, 20
Russia, 8, 18
England, 8, 17
Israel, 9, 17
Macedonia, 8, 7
Estonia, 9, 3
Andorra, 8, 0
England have two games to play against Russia – if they can win the home game on Wednesday and take a point off the return leg in October, they’re more or less through to Euro 2008. Wednesday’s match, therefore, is England’s chance to keep qualification in their own hands.
England take Israel on at Wembley on Saturday, 8th September 2007 in a must-win match that will be the toughest game Steve McClaren will have had so far as manager (it gets
worse harder when England take on Russia 4 days later). It’s not so much the failure to live up to expectations (that’s England for you) but the fact that England have visibly gone backwards since the 2006 World Cup.
There were good signs against Germany – Carrick and Robinson apart, the team played half-decently. If they play the same way as they did against Germany, if Hargreaves is fit and plays in midfield and if Robinson can keep his wits about him (seeing as McClaren will persist with him), then England will beat Israel comfortably. It doesn’t make them a good team, but they have a good shot of winning as long as they cut down on the defensive mistakes.
Part of me wants England to fail – it will at least allow me to enjoy Euro 2008 as a neutral and avoid the painful torture of watching England’s players mindnumbingly trudge towards slaughter.
But there’s no use looking so far ahead. The equation for England is quite simple – beat Israel and Russia at home. 6 points and England will be favourites for 2nd place, seeing as the last 3 games will be at Wembley. It’s these two games that will ‘keep England in the hunt’, so here’s to hoping that the players sort themselves out.
P Neville and A Smith – both ex Man Utd players and two players I love for their commitment to the cause – shouldn’t be in this squad.
Goalkeepers: P Robinson, D James, S Carson
Defenders: M Richards, W Brown, R Ferdinand, J Terry, A Cole, J Lescott, P Neville, N Shorey
Midfielders: D Bentley, S Gerrard, F Lampard, J Cole, S Wright-Phillips, M Carrick, G Barry, S Downing, O Hargreaves
Strikers: A Smith, M Owen, P Crouch, A Johnson, J Defoe, A Young, E Heskey
Aouate, Davidovitch, Strauber, Ben Haim, Benado, Gershon, Ziv, Sprungin, Saban, Strul, Antebi, Benayoun, Badier, Alberman, Tal, Zandberg, Yamuz, Itzhaki, Golan, Balili, Collauti, Barda, Katan.