Hyped, pampered and completely overrated – these are the adjectives that English footballers have come to be associated with for quite a few years now. In spite of having a God given chance to prove their critics wrong, they have done exactly the opposite by living up to their monikers. The most important match in several years and Wembly couldn’t have been a more ideal location to win back a shot at glory and needless to say, they made a thorough meal of things.
Needing just a draw against visitors Croatia, who had lost to lowly Macedonia over the weekend, England manager Steve McClaren could not have been more overconfident as he experimented with an already unstable side. However confident he was, I still believe no manager should throw in untested players in such crucial matches, which is what McClaren did by handing goalkeeper Scott Carson his first competitive start. Admitted Paul Robinson is not exactly the greatest keeper on the planet, but at least he has more experience than the 22 year old Carson. Perhaps a better choice would have been David James who, although is not getting any younger, has been in superb form at Portsmouth.
That decision was the first of many blunders which cost England a place in Austria this summer. A speculative 30 yard shot by Nico Kranjcar just after 8 minutes bounced in front of Carson who could only parry it over himself into the roof of the net. Ivica Olic latched on to a sublime Eduardo pass just 6 minutes later, when Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright Phillips both played him onside, and found the back of the net, without Carson getting a touch on the ball. What Wright- Phillips was doing so far back, is a question perhaps he could answer better.
This brings us to another questionable McClaren tactic. Leaving David Beckham on the bench in favour of the aforementioned Wright Phillips, proved to be a blunder as Phillips is nowhere near as good as Beckham when it comes to delivering an inch perfect cross, which was the need of the hour rather than aimlessly running back and forth over the pitch which Philips. Beckham who came on in the 46th minute did what was expected of him and his cross allowed Peter Crouch to equalize in the 65th minute after Frank Lampard scored from the spot after 56 minutes.
However England seemed destined to lose the match as Mladen Petric scored from a 25 yard thunderbolt, 13 minutes from time, breaking English hearts in the process. With a defensive mentality setting in, England were hoping and praying they could cling on but this tactic backfired as none of the players seemed committed to the cause. No one came forward to close Petric down and allowed him to steal England’s thunder.
A 4-5-1 formation can also be blamed as there was no support for Peter Crouch whose clever flick-ons were wasted as no one came forward to take advantage of them. Croatia looked like a thoroughly professional outfit and did not really feel any pressure as they had already qualified.
The English had a substitute defence with unconvincing Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott teaming up with youngster Micah Richards and veteran Sol Campbell. John Terry’s absence had considerably weakened the side.
But what is really astonishing is the appalling performance of the midfield. None of the midfielders really looked as if they wanted to play the match. Steven Gerrard looked like a shadow of the player who captains Liverpool and Frank Lampard was so silent, the first time he appeared to be on the pitch was when he stepped up to take the penalty. I shall refrain from commenting on Gareth Barry and Joe Cole.
Peter Crouch was the only saving grace for England as he posed a real threat to the Croatian defence. However playing the isolated striker is useful only if the midfield comes forward and he was ultimately outnumbered by the Croatians.
This game just about sums up the English squad which is filled with players who are much talked about and praised when they play for their respective clubs, but do not begin to resemble a team when playing together.
The Euro debacle means that Steve McClaren will no longer continue as England Manager. The quest for a new manager begins with big names like Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho allegedly being considered for the job. However, one can only hope that the next manager does a better job than old Stevie, who should just have stuck to Middlesbrough where he did a considerably better job.