The strike by senior editors of Salut! Sunderland, cynically timed to coincide with the World Cup, severely delayed the appearance of Pete Sixsmith‘s thoughts on last night’s match. Here is an emergency strike-breaking version. His verdict on the England class of ’14: a decent effort but a long way to go to catch up with the Grade A students in Brazil…
WORKING THROUGH THE LEVELS
Regular readers will wish to know that the GCSE marking is now complete and the papers have all been despatched back to Manchester.
Despite a lack of knowledge re the German Democratic Republic, most students knew what they were writing about, although there was some confusion – Hitler organised the Schlieffen Plan, the Kaiser allowed the aforementioned Austrian to have the Sudetenland, Franz Ferdinand may have been shot but they are a decent band, that kind of thing – as they passed through the levels to the heights of a very good level 4.
So, if England were sitting a GCSE exam, where would they be? After watching them last night, their performance mirrored that of many of the candidates I assessed in that they started off well, remembered all that the teacher had told them and created a very positive impression.
Then, as they approached the mid point of the exam (it does last 90 minutes, like a football match), the odd mistake began to creep in, including one that spoilt the whole paper. And, as they came to the end, they became tired and rushed things and were unable to get back to the high standards that they had set earlier on.
So, a decent level 3 for them, but with a fair way to go to catch up with the really clever boys in the class, Pirlo, A, Robben, A and van Persie. R – although they did do far better than Casillas, I. who clearly had not done sufficient revision.
Were I Roy Hodgson, I would be worried rather than happy about the performance. Yes, there was much to admire in the pace of Raheem Sterling, the striking power of Daniel Sturridge and the industriousness of Jordan Henderson. This augers well for the future and Euro 2016 may see them blossom fully as other youngsters (Lallana, Rodríguez, Wickham) are added to the team. The shape was good and there was a busy-ness that is seldom seen in an England team at a major tournament.
However, it ended in defeat. Not only did England give away two careless goals, there was a failure to take the opportunities that came their way, opportunities that Italy, the Netherlands and Germany would have gobbled up.
Some of the older players struggled. Gerrard worked hard but did not influence the game in the same way that Pirlo did for the Azzuri. Different players with different styles to be sure, but each can influence the game in their own way and Gerrard didn’t. He wasn’t helped by poor performances from both of the full backs, who may get forward well but who didn’t defend. Baines was a particular disappointment, regularly failing to make his tackles and being consistently beaten for guile and pace.
Hodgson has a problem with Rooney. For so long the lodestone of English football, he looks a spent force. The ball to Sturridge for the equaliser was his one outstanding moment; the second half was a nightmare for him, culminating in a missed chance that even Jozy might have converted.
The defending for both goals was sloppy. Nobody closed Marchisio down for the first one – although the sublime step over by Pirlo would have fooled most defenders – allowing him a free shot which he took with the utmost ease. I suspect that an England player in a similar position would have blazed it over the bar.
The second goal was down to poor defending all over. Baines was taken apart by Candreva and his wonderful cross was headed in by Balotelli, who took a pace away from Cahill to head home. A classic goal and one from which there was no coming back.
For those who follow England, there is hope. Uruguay looked as lost as Spain did the previous night, when Costa Rica went two goals up. The game on Thursday is a must win for both; the loser will probably be on the way home. Hodgson has a big decision to make with regard to Rooney while Suarez is certain to play for the country that claims Gus Poyet as its most famous citizen.
The opening games have been thrilling to watch, full of good football and, so far, empty of cynicism – although the Uruguayan full back couldn’t resist a good kick at an opponent to earn the tournament’s first red card. The refereeing has veered from the inept in Brazil v Croatia, to the “I didn’t realise he was there” in the Italy v England game. I love the spray used for the lines; I can see that one catching on in the Premier League.
It will be interesting to see whether the free flowing football and the lack of cynicism survives the first round of games. Winning teams now have an advantage, losers are playing catch up. Draws are of little use to the latter, while the former would be relatively happy to claim them. There are genuine contenders like Argentina, France and Germany to play, while dangerous outsiders in the form of Belgium, Portugal and Russia are on stage soon. And after Costa Rica, it would be dangerous to underestimate some of the smaller nations.
Could be a fascinating three weeks as we sit back and admire the A* students. Wonder if Egon Krenz is watching.