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England Not That Good


The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Never let it be said that England's footballers are selfish divas, unwilling to lift a finger to help others. In Amsterdam, in front of 50,000 witnesses, these much-maligned millionaires generously donated two goals to their Dutch opponents, an act of charity that they'd prefer went entirely unpublicised. Fat chance.

Ability has never been England's problem, but hubris has been strangling her for decades. John Terry told journalists before this match that England could win the World Cup, but some of his team-mates seemed to take his optimism as a signal to relax. Rio Ferdinand's insane pass across the penalty area to Dirk Kuyt was the act of a man sleepwalking his way through a game, an unforgivable clanger given that he had done exactly the same thing only moments earlier. As if his foul-up didn't stink the Amsterdam Arena out enough, Gareth Barry then doubled the Dutch lead by laying on a perfect ball for Arjen Robben whose blocked shot was slammed home on the rebound by Rafael van der Vaart. Ferdinand and Barry are both top class footballers, but you don't win World Cups by going through the motions, even in pre-season friendlies. England are good, but they're not that good.

Fabio Capello, on the other hand, is that good. The Italian remains England's strongest asset and he proved it once again with three substitutions to change the game. First on the scene was Jermain Defoe who stabbed home an elegant equaliser with one of his patented no-backlift finishes after being put clear by Frank Lampard. Then Carlton Cole arrived to put a more intimidating edge on his predecessor Emile Heskey's aerial efforts. Finally, James Milner materialised for his debut to open up the left flank. The three newcomers combined to force an equaliser that had looked highly unlikely before the break and, with more luck, they could even have stolen a victory.

Few would have blamed Capello had he decided to throw teacups around the dressing room at half-time, but the fiery boss decided instead to calm things down. In truth, there wasn't an awful lot that needed changing, bar the obvious sacrifice of the terminally stupid. Since the Italian's arrival, England have learned that passing the ball to each other is often far more profitable than tonking it high into the night sky at every opportunity. With possession, they can dictate the terms of a game instead of chasing around like children, as they did under Steve McClaren. There was a time when England's clashes against the Dutch were a case of Beauty and the Beast, style usually triumphing over steel. Not anymore. The English can now match anyone for technique and talent. But that's still not enough to legitimise fantasies of World Cup glory.

Arrogant, over-confident teams do not win World Cups. England, and Brazil for that matter, discovered this in 2006. To win a World Cup takes a lot of luck, good form, an absence of critical injuries and some benevolent refereeing, but even with all of that, you still have to actually be awake during the games. Did I say there was nothing that could be learned from a pre-season friendly international? I radically underestimated England's deficiencies