England get going in the nick of time
England finally look like a team with ambitions to win the World Cup after a much-improved performance against Slovenia.
By Danny Ohio.
Slowly but surely the favourites for the tournament have warmed their engines and begun to purr into life and after one adequate and one abject display, England can finally be added to that list. It took at 22nd minute strike from Jermaine Defoe to win it for England against Slovenia and while they may be disappointed not to have put the game to bed with one or two more, every player could come off the pitch knowing that they were significantly better than the impostors who turned up against Algeria and the USA.
What will please Fabio Capello the most when he looks back over one of the most tumultuous weeks of his career is the calm and intelligent performance his players delivered at the time it was needed the most.
It might have lacked the polish of Spain’s performance against Honduras or the exuberance and flair shown by Argentina so far but England’s display against Slovenia was in the same vein as those which saw them win nine out of ten in qualifying and that is what fans should be celebrating the most.
The confidence was there to see, with Rooney picking up the ball and linking play the way England so desperately need him to, while Lampard finally exerted some influence on a game and Gerrard looked menacing whenever he got forward, as did Ashley Cole and the impressive James Milner.
Despite one or two hairy moments, including a fabulous tackle from Matthew Upson in the 91st minute, for 70 minutes the game went exactly as everyone had thought it would before the World Cup began – England in control picking their opponents apart with quick interchanges and clever movement.
Capello should be given a lot of credit for the rejuvenated display. Following the poor performance against Algeria the pressure was on him to change the personnel and the formation. While the formation stayed the same, Heskey was left out for Defoe and Aaron Lennon made way for Milner. The result was a quicker England, playing at a higher tempo with the ball on the floor and a willingness to get forward.
What made England’s qualifying campaign so impressive was the confident way the players took to the pitch and largely brushed aside all who came before them. Granted it wasn’t the hardest group but Croatia are no mugs and like they say, there are no easy games in football. The majesty of their progression to the finals made many actually believe the pre-tournament hype that this year will finally be the year when the three lions go all the way. Against Slovenia, we saw the same clinical, intelligent and confident England emerge.
Argentina’s play may be more flamboyant and Spain’s football beautiful to behold but every team has its strengths and England have begun to show theirs at just the right time.