England 0 – 0 Portugal

So, England’s World Cup campaign has come to an end, through the usual medium, the penalty shoot out. A few things came out of the tournament for me:

  • England were nowhere near as bad as their critics have made out
  • England have to play with two strikers. I don’t think they necessarily have to stick to 4–4–2 (after all, Bobby Robson was successful in 1990 with 3–5–2), but two up front is a necessity for me. Other countries who play successfully with 1 up, like France against Brazil, last night, have a midfielder with a spark of creative genius. In France’s case it is Zidane, in Portugal’s it’s Deco. With one up and no Deco, Portugal looked ordinary against England. England’s creative urge is with the strikers, currently Rooney. He needs a partner to feed to take advantage of his good work. Gerrard is a wonderful player, but he isn’t a playmaker.
  • Frank Lampard really shouldn’t play for England again, unless some sort of dramatic improvement occurs. What is it that he does that Gerrard doesn’t? The two, for me, are too similar when played in the middle of the park. One option might be that if Beckham stops being a #1 choice, Gerrard could play wide right and that might give Lampard the room he might need – but the emergence of Aaron Lennon as Beckham’s replacement precludes that.
  • Taking four strikers, when two are unfit and one you have no intention of playing, just isn’t enough for a major tournament
  • Pinning all your hopes on an emotionally combustible 20–year old is probably not a good idea
  • England are almost certainly a better side than Portugal, or at least a better side than Portugal without Deco

As for Eriksson’s reign, well, I think he did alright. People are quick to forget the total mess England were in when he took over; after a clueless defeat to Germany and a draw with Finland that was considered a good result. He deserves credit for creating a relatively settled side, and passes on a good squad to McClaren. What McClaren will hopefully bring to the job will be a little more creativity in squad selections and bravery in terms of picking the best players to fit a settled system, rather than trying to play the best XI regardless of how they fit together.

My England side for the Euro 2008 qualifiers:

Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole
Lennon, Hargreaves, Gerrard, Cole
Owen, Rooney

I think Hargreaves emerged during the Portugal game as a quality holding midfielder – he might not have Carrick’s ability to pass, but his all-action style would give Gerrard the freedom to bomb forward at will.