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Israel 0-0 England – out of balance and out of ideas



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This post is about the Israel qualifier in March 2007 – for the recent qualifying game (September 2007), see this article: England vs Israel, 8th Sep 07, Wembley.

Yesterday, I foolishly allowed hope to replace reality.

I wrote that McClaren’s policy of putting out the best 11 players (as opposed to the best team) would be enough to beat Israel.

But Israel don’t mind drawing if it gives them an outside chance at qualification, and that combined with England’s inability to create meaningful chances (not half-chances and Arsenal-like possession outside Israel’s penalty box) meant that I was horribly, horribly wrong.

England started with the following line up:

GK: Robinson
RB: Phil Neville
CB: Terry
CB: Ferdinand
LB: Carragher
RM: Gerrard
CM: Lampard
CM: Hargreaves
LM: Lennon
ST: Rooney
ST: Johnson

Apparently, this imbalanced squad was expected to win while playing away, under pressure AND after the team had not scored in 3 games.

Stewart Downing, Kieron Dyer, Gareth Barry and Jermaine Defoe may not be the answers England are looking for.

But then again, a flat-footed center-back playing left-back, a right-winger playing left-wing, a central midfielder playing right-wing and an inexperienced striker trying to score goals up front was not going to work either.

There are several questions that must be asked of Steve McClaren – not today though, as it is Sunday and I couldn’t arsed to discuss football tactics and potential squad issues about England, or any other team for that matter.

And before it is forgotten, credit must be given where credit is due. England kept a clean sheet, and Israel played well to deny England any easy goals.

Euro 2008 Qualifying standings

  • The top two teams qualify from each group
  • In Group E, each team plays 12 games

Group E

Team, Games Played, Points

Croatia, 5, 13
Russia, 5, 11
England, 5, 8
Israel, 5, 8
Macedonia, 6, 7
Estonia, 4, 0
Andorra, 4, 0

Estonia and Andorra are out of the reckoning, and Macedonia, barring a miracle, are out of it as well.

That leaves Croatia as favourites, Russia springing a surprise as runners-up and England and Israel equal on points.

The top four teams have 7 games left to play.

England play Andorra next, a must-win game (England beat Andorra 5-0 at home). They also have home and away ties with Estonia which they ‘should’ win easily. Ditto for the home tie with Israel.

That gives England four ‘easy’ games. The other games are a home game to Croatia and home and away to Russia.

England still have a chance, but a lot will depend on the two Russia games.

More analysis and a preview for the Andorra game later. Suffice to say, England were not good enough, and there was so little happening in the game that you don’t need to read a match report.

Israel vs England Preview

Can England beat Israel? Will they qualify for Euro 2008?

Yes. We can trust Steve McClaren to put out the 11 best players (if not the best team), and on most days those players are good enough to get the job done against teams like Israel.

And yes, England will qualify for Euro 2008 – they have 8 games to go in the qualifying stages (including the Israel game today), and their real competition is Russia and Croatia. Russia are a point ahead, Croatia 3 points ahead. England still have to play Russia, and they have a home game to Croatia which they should win.

Match Info

Group E: Israel v England
Date: Saturday 24 March
Kick-off: 1830 GMT
Venue: Ramat Gan Stadium

Friday Press Conference

The benefit of having 4 months away from the international scene is that the once-trite sound-bites sound almost believable again.

When John Terry – the John Terry who has been a shadow of his Chelsea self in the English shirt, captain or no captain – tells us that players have to treat each other like clubmates (which presumably involves shouting, swearing, lowering of barriers, less respect and a whole lot of trust), you have to stop yourself from nodding at his sagacity.

Lest anyone forget, this is 2007, not 1907. Football, with its dichotomy of club and international teams, has been around long enough for managers and players to know the fundamentals of team-play and success.

If England have just discovered the need for team spirit, it is embarrassing to hear as a supporter and shocking to hear as a follower of the sport.

Having said that, I suppose McClaren and Terry had to say something. I would have preferred something more honest, more adventurous, more tactical – such as:

McClaren: “We know that Israel like to draw, so we’re looking to take the game by the scruff of the neck and push for victory from the start. It’s not enough to be positive, we need to be, and we will be, clinical and deadly in front of goal.

I think Rooney’s running into a good patch of goal-scoring form for his club, hopefully he can carry on for us.”

Terry: “I realise that as captain the responsibility for the team’s performances falls on me as well, so I’ll be looking to lead more in this game. Playing against Israel in front of a partisan crowd will be an interesting challenge, and I would love it if we could silence them in the early minutes.”

Instead, we hear more platitudes.

Expected England Starting Lineup

The England squad for the 2 Euro 2008 qualifiers has been pretty much decided, so at least England fans can be thankful that the majority of the squad came through the tough domestic fixtures unscathed.

For the Israel game, Ashley Cole is suspended and Woodgate is injured, so we’re short of numbers in the full back positions. One can only hope that because of this we don’t hit 3-5-2 again, and that Stevo sticks to 4-4-2.

Depending on McClaren’s mood, he could pick either of Jamie Carragher and Richards at right-back, and any of Nev, Carragher and Barry for left-back.

It’s pointless arguing about McClaren’s insistence on picking the 11 best players instead of the best team, so instead of seeing genuine wingers in Lennon (right wing) and Downing (left wing), you’ll see a hodge-podge midfield accommodating Gerrard on the right and Lennon on the left.

Up front, Andy Johnson is probably going to get a chance ahead of Jermaine Defoe, which is fine by my view as long as Stevo plays 4-4-2 and not 4-5-1.

Starting XI

Paul Robinson
Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Gareth Batty
Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon
Wayne Rooney, Andy Johnson

Bench: Ben Foster, Jamie Carragher, Phil Neville, Michael Carrick, Kieron Dyer, Defoe, Jenas

McClaren / England Tactics

A four month break between the qualifying games has dulled the anger England fans feel towards Steve McClaren and the under-performing England team, but that can change very quickly within 5 minutes at the Ramat Gan stadium.

England, as is their usual form, will make this game really hard for themselves by giving the ball away too cheaply and looking lost when it comes to attacking Israel. When you’re up against a weaker opponent you need to push them to the limit, not sit back and wait for mistakes. England will benefit most from the full backs pushing up and the wingers going wide. Yes, I know that England’s chosen two are not tall and not greater headers, but wing play will stretch the Israeli defence and make it easier for Lampard, Rooney and Johnson to attack from the center.

England need to be aggressive – Israel will attack initially but unless they plan on gifting the game to England, they will look to keep the ball and play on the counter. In Hargreaves, Lampard, Rooney and Gerrard England have the physical resources to hustle and push the Israel defence and in Lennon and Johnson they have the pace and guile to break through.

England’s biggest problem will be scoring goals – they’ve scored just once in the last three internationals, and drawn a blank in the last two. People are pointing to the attack as a problematic area but the fact is that McClaren usually doesn’t play Rooney in the right position (lead striker) or with adequate support. In Andy Johnson and Jermaine Defoe, Rooney has runners but not link-up men, which means that once again, Rooney will be played as the second striker.

He has the quality to succeed, but with England needing goals this badly, they might want to put Dyer or Lennon in the ‘hole’ and let Rooney lead the line.

Israel vs England Prediction

England should win (albeit scrappily). I see England going to Euro 2008, although I also think that if England lose this one, they are in big, big trouble and will find it difficult to qualify for Euro 2008.

A draw will be quite painful as well (and something more probable than an England win).

Bottom line – England need to win all their remaining games. Under Eriksson I could guarantee you that they would (or at least that they would qualify). Under McClaren?

Let’s just say it’s a good thing Rooney has scored a couple of goals recently 🙂