Monday, June 28, 2010


Hurst and Lampard

Another World Cup of gloom for England, then, and another quarter-final between Argentina and Germany. If nothing else, it was an evening that brought back some memories.

Germany v. England

For those who believe that England won the World Cup in 1966 thanks to a goal-that-wasn't, the ludicrous disallowing of Frank Lampard's goal last night is the ultimate case of poetic justice.

Chalk up another demonstration of FIFA's stupidity in refusing to countenance the use of video technology, and perhaps this time the IFAB will think about it a bit more seriously (if Sepp Blatter allows them to).

Although one could say that a 4-1 scoreline makes a single controversial non-goal less than relevant, the timing was crucial. England had pulled themselves back to 2-1 thanks to Matthew Upson's tremendous leap and header, and an equaliser in the space of a couple of minutes could well have left the Germans shattered. Instead, they regained their composure, settled back into the game and scored twice more in the second half as England left gaping holes at the back.

James Milner did start on the right instead of either Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips, and with the right-footed Steven Gerrard filling the left midfield role, England were horribly short of width in the opening exchanges...and, indeed, throughout the match. The Germans were not making much impact in the first twenty minutes either, however; whatever noises were coming out of their camp about England not being a special opponent for them, they were treating the match very ponderously.

Suddenly, a ridiculously simple goal. You know there's something wrong with the defence when the goalkeeper is credited with the assist, and Upson's failure to track Miroslav Klose from a goalkick was unforgivable at international level. Upson compounded the error with two more in quick succession, getting caught well upfield for a swift German counter that ended in a fine save by David James from Klose, and then repeating the mistake when Klose's delightful touch set Thomas Muller free on the right, to set up Lukas Podolski for the Germans' second.

By the end of the game, Germany were playing contemptuous possession football, reminding the English of their technical superiority at every turn, if you'll pardon the pun. England had clearly lost any remaining self-belief by that point, but the display of keep-ball was a stark indication of the difference between the two sides. If Lampard's goal had counted, the complexion of the game would undoubtedly have changed...but I still think Joachim Loew's team would have come out on top eventually.

For England at South Africa 2010, it was largely a story of two stars who completely failed to shine, namely Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. Rooney at least has the excuse of being not 100% fit, but the desire to stamp his authority on a game seemed to be missing in South Africa. And Gerrard may not have been happy with his left-wing role (I don't blame him), but his leadership qualities must have been left out of his suitcase this time around. It was pitiful to see the Liverpool skipper slash three shots off target in the closing minutes against Germany; this was not the Gerrard we were hoping to see.

And the lack of width...why on earth was James Milner not replaced with a proper winger, rather than another basically central man in Joe Cole? It seemed to bespeak a defeatist attitude on Fabio Capello's part, and in the long run the Italian's reign, however successful the qualifying series, will probably be seen as little better than Sven-Goran Eriksson's. Like the Swede, he showed no courage in desperate situations.

Argentina v. Mexico

These two produced one of the best games of the 2006 tournament, and at least the crowd got to see some good goals this time, even if they didn't completely get their money's worth. Mexico looked like they might cause a shock early on, with Carlos Salcido's surprise effort from deep pinging off the bar and Andres Guardado's chance going agonizingly wide just minutes later.

In response, Argentina slowed the pace of the game down to a walk, and Mexico in turn were content not to force the issue. Leo Messi, drifting here, there and everywhere, finally found the room to run at the defence and play in Carlos Tevez; and then came the second atrocious refereeing non-decision of the day's action.

Again: a simple matter to disallow the goal after a five-second referral to the video. Instead, another classic refutation of the fatuous argument that recourse to video evidence would intolerably slow down the pace of the game; the Mexicans surround the referee for a full two minutes only to be eventually shooed away in disgust. Slowing down the pace of the game? Laughable.

But I digress.

Mexico's defence was obviously rattled, and a horrible mistake from the otherwise dependable Ricardo Osorio allowed an unforgiving Gonzalo Higuain in for a second, after which everyone knew that it was game over. Ultimately, for all the promise of their bright opener against South Africa and the determined win over France, it was a typical Mexican World Cup effort: dazzling interplay at times, plenty for the purists to savour, but...failure at the pointy end. At least Javier Fernandez, soon to move to Manchester United, provided El Tri fans with a real striker's goal to treasure at the end.

And so, a replay of the tumultuous quarter-final of 2006. Both teams are slightly weak in defence; Martin DeMichelis has been awfully vulnerable for Argentina (just ask the Koreans), while Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich still don't quite convince as a central pairing for the Germans. The key to the game could be Mesut Ozil, who has definitely been one of the players of the tournament to date. Diego Maradona is unlikely to reinforce his midfield merely to deny Ozil space, so Javier Mascherano - who can give away repeated fouls at times - will have his work cut out. Likewise, of course, the Germans will find Messi a real handful, especially if their fullbacks venture too far upfield and leave him the sort of space on the wing (especially the right) in which he thrives.

It will be a fascinating match-up.

I do not blame the referee for the decision. I would have immediately looked to my linesman sorry AR as it is his job to know whether it went over the line or not as happened in 1966.
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