Thoughts on the England-Brazil game

Watched the England-Brazil friendly last night, some thoughts on the game:

Brazil came to Wembley with different objectives – the less established players were playing for the starting lineup for Copa America, others were playing to cement a place (Gilberto Silva, Robinho), and still others (Kaka and Ronaldinho) were playing this game so that they’ll get the Copa America off.

England, on the other hand, had only one objective – they were desperate to win.

England are a changed team – they battled to keep possession (which is not easy against Brazil) and went for every 50-50 challenge. This time they showed application to match their spirits, even if Brazil were off-color. If England had played like this against Croatia and Israel, they might have won both games and McClaren wouldn’t be shedding hair as he is now.

Did anyone notice how the Brazilians harried English players whenever they had possession, while the English stood off and played the defensive waiting game when the ball was at the Brazilians’ feet? More harrying required, although tactically England did well.

On last night’s evidence, Michael Owen and David Beckham can play in Euro 2008. Beckham’s passing has improved and is more Brazilian at times (or maybe I’m seeing too much into them) and Owen fights more for the ball now. England need match-winners, and with the ‘backups’ not good enough, these guys need to be there, fit and in form.

Phil McNulty of the BBC is definitely not a Beckham fan. Here’s an extract:

It would be churlish to say Beckham’s performance at Wembley was anything other than exemplary, both in attitude and in delivery.

He was involved in many good things and deserved the warm ovation he was afforded when he was substituted.

But, as someone fiercely against his comeback, nothing happened at Wembley to change a strong conviction that the move was a desperate and unneccessary short-term measure.

Sorry if this does not strike the correct chord of rejoicing, but Beckham has no place in England’s plans beyond next Wednesday.

True Beckham gives England an extra edge at free-kicks, but if McClaren feels he needs a set-piece specialist to beat the might of Estonia, then his regime is in bigger trouble than we thought.

As for McClaren’s lauding of Beckham after the game – “best right-sided player in the world” no less – all admirable stuff, but it begged a question.

If Beckham is such a talisman and a talent, why make such a puffed-up public show of leaving him out in the first place?

Beckham did well against Brazil, but it was hardly a hugely competitive test and he should not be considered again after Estonia.

LA Galaxy is his future, not England.

The thing is – England ARE in a lot of trouble, and without Beckham England are one match-winner less, one fighter less, and definitely without a player to send in crosses and dominate from set-pieces.

Until Lennon develops into a master winger capable of delivering deadly crosses (we all thought he would do so this season but he hasn’t), or until the Downing / Bridge combination is trusted enough to be given an extended run in the England squad, England have cut down on one dimension of the game, and that is not acceptable if you want to qualify for Euro 2008 (let alone win it).

McClaren was wrong to drop Beckham – it would be comparable to Arsenal selling Pires without bringing in adequate cover and experience…oh wait, that’s already happened, hasn’t it? 🙂

Other than the Beckham saga, I think England as a whole played well. I would have liked to see Brown play ahead of Carragher at right-back and Carragher slot in ahead of Ledley King at center-back, but I think McClaren wanted to play different types of centre-backs and also didn’t want to drop Carragher.

It’s something that has hurt England in the past and I think with Brown’s enterprise and attacking verve England might have created more chances. Then again, Carragher did well and should start for England as center-back against Estonia.

Gerrard had a good game but with Carrick available why weren’t Carrick and Gerrard paired together? As things stood, Lampard had an uncharacteriscally poor game but overall if Hargreaves is missing then Carrick and not Gerrard, is his natural replacement. In Tallinn England should pair Carrick and Gerrard in the middle.

Alan Smith had a shocker of a game and he might just have blown his chance for international football till after Euro 2008 at least. Crouch will / should return for Estonia and after that it will be Rooney, Owen and Crouch rotating up front.

Joe Cole’s inability to play wide is a problem – he’s very, very good, but he cuts in far too often. He’s not a natural winger and if England need width they’re going to have to use Downing more often – at least the kid can lay in decent crosses. Against Estonia it might not be an issue but in tougher games England will need the width and pentrative ability, especially if England have such problems in creating goals from open play.

Overall, a positive, committed performance but until England qualify for Euro 2008 McClaren still has plenty of work to do.

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