Tuesday, June 20, 2006

England top Group B

There were 4 world cup games today, but I'm only going to talk about the England match, because that's the one I got to see. Germany looks strong going into the next round, stronger than I gave them credit for. But despite how awful they've looked in the last few years, they always seem to pick it up for the Cup.

Anyway, on to old mother England. All England needed to do was tie with Sweden and they would win the group. Sweden would have liked to win the game and top the group, but that was a significantly taller order, as their form has been way off so far.
The final score was 2-2, so the English get their not-so-daunting matchup with Ecuador on Sunday. And Trinidad lost, so Sweden would have made the second round whether they lost or not.
England finally played much better against a quality opponent. Perhaps what they needed was a challenge, as they just couldn't get their heads around efficient play or finishing in the box verses Paraguay or Trinidad and Tobago. Today they looked dangerous on all sides of the ball. The two goals that were scored by Joe Cole and Stephen Gerrard were just beautiful and well inside the flow of play.

Players can only watch as Joe Cole's
lofted shot gets tucked in the top corner

But unfortunately, there is a defensive problem that England needs to overcome if it wants to go any deeper than the quarter-finals. The two goals from Sweden came on set pieces and the defensive positions and reactions of the English players made them seem confused and disoriented when the ball finally arrived in the box. The corner kick that was headed in for Sweden's first goal was very well played, but Beckham was guarding the man who's head deflected the ball in the net, and he wasn't even near him when the ball made contact.
After Gerrard's goal, the game looked in the bag for the English. However, in the 90th minute, Sweden took a throw in, aimed right into the box, that despite the announcer's insistence that Henrik Larson got a foot on it, seemed to touch no human being, English or Swedish, before lazily bouncing by the far post, where Ashley Cole was supposed to be on set pieces, and into the net. There should be some shame spread around the squad for letting that one in.

I think that ESPN gave the man of the match to Stephen Gerrard, coming off the bench to score the second goal. Which was a great header into the corner pocket. However did you see who lofted that perfect chip shot onto his head? No, it wasn't Beckham, who was largely absent from the game today. It was Joe Cole. Besides the nifty and dangerous looking antics from Rooney up front, Joe Cole is the life and soul of this team right now. His energy coming up the left side created trouble for the Swedish defense all day.

Also of note, during the first few minutes of the game, Michael Owen went down with a knee injury and doesn't look like he's going to be back any time soon. While I'm sad for him and hope he heals quickly, I'm cynical about all the press that labels him stuff like their "most dangerous striker" and waxes woe on the English side for having lost him.
Have you seen any of the games they've played? Has having Owen in the game made the offense more or less effective do you think? I think not having him in there, and having the Crouch-Rooney front line with Cole and Gerrard in the midfield is what is producing magic for England right now, and I think that they will be better not having to rely on whether or not his scoring slump is going to be over before the end of this tournament.

Looking forward to seeing if Sweden can handle the dynamic striker tandem of Klose and Podolski on Saturday. My guess is that they won't be able to.

Update: Nick Webster rates the English players in Tuesday's game.

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