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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
The signs of improvement are visible, but Fabio Capello's mission to revitalise the England team is still some way from completion. There were moments, during this frustrating, attritional non-contest, of class and sophistication, but sporadic style couldn't eclipse the fact that this side are riddled with the same old problems. Against a semi-professional Andorran team of insurance brokers and gardeners, they laboured to a 2-0 victory with a performance that was pock-marked with incompetence, foolishness and rank stupidity.

Thank heavens then for a manager who can identify problems and execute solutions. Capello could see that Stewart Downing's crosses weren't going to find their target without a torch, a map and a GPS system, and he hauled him off at the break. His replacement, Joe Cole, broke the deadlock inside three minutes.

He could also see that Jermaine Defoe, through no real fault of his own, was less likely to score than Andorra themselves. England's natural response to a failure to break teams down is to start knocking in long balls and lofted crosses. Sadly, it seemed that none of the first-team squad had realised that Defoe is slightly smaller than some of the blades of grass at the Olympic Stadium and the Portsmouth striker must have strained his neck watching the ball sailing over his head. On came Emile Heskey and finally the ball started to stick in the final third. England can look like a very good team when they keep the ball on the ground, but bewilderingly, they prefer not to.

Infuriatingly, they had actually started brightly enough, with Theo Walcott looking particularly impressive on the right wing, but their play quickly stagnated and they were rightly booed off the pitch after a barren first half. Cole single-handedly put the game beyond doubt within ten minutes of joining the fray, but the Andorrans held firm to leave the scoreline looking quite respectable for them.

In March 2007, it took England almost an hour before they could force Andorra to yield, but that was a far more feckless performance. Here, at least, England had some movement and some ideas, but there is much that could be improved Andorra lined up with a five man back-line and defended deeper than French poetry, but perhaps a taller, more physical offensive line could have prospered? It certainly seemed strange to see England lined up without Peter Crouch, who has a habit of scoring against weaker teams.

No-one, not even the most optimistic England fan, could have watched this and dreamed of World Cup glory in South Africa but no-one should judge Capello too harshly for this modest victory either. Like a patient headmaster, he is ever hopeful that his class of super-rich dullards will one day learn to read. Here and there, England are showing signs of football literacy, but it's not enough yet. Considerable improvement is required before Wednesday.

Man of the Match - Joe Cole's introduction in the second half was the catalyst that set England into motion. Quite what he has done to upset Fabio Capello is a mystery, but the difference between his barnstorming perforance and Stewart Downing's woeful ineptitude was palpable.

No Firepower - When you're up against a tightly packed, physical defence, you need to be able to match them pound for pound. Emile Heskey started on the bench and Peter Crouch was sat at home in the UK. In their absence, Wayne Rooney was sucked backwards into the middle and Jermaine Defoe spent his night walking into people's kneecaps. Poor tactics.

Electric - There isn't much for England to cling to, but the performance of Theo Walcott was encouraging. Andorra simply couldn't cope with his pace. Had there been anyone of any significant size in the box to aim at, he might have ended with a few assists to his name.

Clueless - England started brightly enough, but by the end of the first half they had reverted to crossing the ball high in the night sky for tiny Defoe. When will they learn?! He's the size of a dormouse, of course he's not going to win the ball in the air. Clueless! Thankfully, Capello reacted and brought on Emile Heskey in his place.

Punters Rant - Most Singaorean punters would have backed England to win by at least three goals. Most English punters would have considered a little wager on Andorra. There lies the benefit of experience. England aren't yet good enough to bet on.

Match Stats -

David James 6, Glen Johnson 8, Ashley Cole 7, John Terry 7, Joleon Lescott 7, Gareth Barry 6, Frank Lampard 7 (David Beckham 6), Stewart Downing 4 (Joe Cole 9), Theo Walcott 8, Wayne Rooney 6, Jermaine Defoe 6 (Emile Heskey 7)

Koldo 5, Antoni Lima 5, Oscar Sonejee 5, Jose Txema 5, Ildefons Lima 6 (Fernandez 5), Manolo Jimenez 6, Josep Ayala 5, Marc Pujol 5 (Marc Vales 5), Xavi Andorra 5, Fernando Silva 4 (Juan Toscano 5 ), Marcio Vieira 5

Bookings - Fernando Silva, Marcio Vieira, Antoni Lima