England’s World Cup opener against Tunisia went exactly as expected and showed again the only thing that will really hamper their chances is the manager.
England’s first group game of World Cup 2018 panned out exactly how I figured. A bright start, with missed chances, an early goal, followed by a reverting to sideways and back passes, playing out from the back just inviting trouble, gifting away an equaliser due to something stupid, Sterling being inept, more missed chances and scraping a late, late winner.
You could also easily predict some overexcitement at the end. It wasn’t a great performance as the BBC pundits would have you believe, it was pretty decent, it’s just in the context of recent England games at tournaments it looked better than it was.
The good bits were good, very good indeed, but the bad bits will be seriously punished by better teams than Tunisia and there’s a few of them about.
The good bits were when England were looking forward, passing forward and so so quickly. Henderson when he ping those early balls for people to run onto looked like he should actually be there. The first led to a chance for Lingard, after Sterling had butchered the first attempt.
A great run by Dele, who was looking as sharp as he has for England in a while, followed by a cracking pass, led to the next butchered chance by Sterling. He got away with it as Lingard was flagged offside, but what the hell was Sterling doing when faced with an open goal? Sterling would spend the rest of the time he was on the field getting even worse, generally it was a full blown Wilshere performance, running into opposing players, losing the ball, falling over, sitting there with that stupid confused gurn on his face.
This was a performance so bad from Sterling that even Southgate saw it, though it was after the hour before the player was hooked. Even then it came as a great surprise.
The opener came just after 10 minutes and cue all the memes about Roy Hodgson making Kane take corners. From Young’s corner – who was lucky to stay on the park, one nasty elbow could have seen red, should have been at least yellow, which he followed up with other challenges that could have seen the card doubled – Stones’ header was well saved but harry knew exactly where to be to knock in his first tournament goal.
But then they reverted to that fannying about. All the speed and pace that caused Tunisia problems replaced by to-you-to-me back passes. Inviting trouble, which duly arrived just after the half hour when Walker decided to spread his wings. People seem genuinely shocked that Walker could be so clueless, some even think it wasn’t a penalty. It was. And he is.
The only time Walker knows were an opposing player is, is when he’s fouling that player. It was a typical piece of Walker “defending”, facing the wrong way and reluctant to play the ball, he wants to leave it so spreads himself out and throws his arm.
Pickford nearly saved him. Why is Walker in the side? He’s no good at crossing so Trippier has taken his place and he’s never been able to defend competently, so Southgate sticks him in a more defensive role.
Then after the break we have the usual post break England. What does Southgate do to them at half-time. Every game they come out semi-comatosed. We need Winston Churchill, we’ve got Iain Duncan Southgate. So what follows is more back/sideways passes, more inviting pressure and letting Tunisia into the game. Luckily, even though they’re the highest ranked African side in the competition, they can’t capitalise, and Pickford has really nothing to do.
Though earlier that situation brought a classic bit of commentary from Martin Keown saying something like “We don’t want him to have to do anything but it would be good if he had to do something”. OK, Martin.
Dele probably shouldn’t have come out for the second half. He took a knock in the first and he just wasn’t the same after that. Sterling certainly shouldn’t have been there. Rashford’s introduction for the latter livened things up a bit but they weren’t creating the chances. Nobody was passing to Harry anywhere near the box.
It was just into added time that Kane got what really was only his second clear chance of the game. Again from a corner this time the other side and Trippier’s excellent ball was nodded on by Maguire, Kane had got himself free at the back post – again knowing exactly where to be – and somehow curled a beautiful header inside the post. It was a hell of a header.
Two sniffs at goal, two goals. That’s all Harry had, it’s all he needed to double Rooney’s World Cup total.
Give him a chance and he’ll score, don’t give him the ball in and around the area and who will score?
Anyway as I dais for the second he got himself free, which brings us to the other main talking point about the game. The officiating and the VAR. The ref has previous. Some dodgy decisions in previous games, this one showed that even though he got the Walker penalty correct, he was pretty damn useless for the rest of the game. Right down to petty things like the Tunisians not backing 10 yards from free-kicks he wasn’t bother with. Neither did it seem was he bothered about mass man handling in the area at set pieces.
Kane hauled down twice for what were stonewall penalties, hell he could be top scorer in Russia now with four. Yet the ref saw nowt and the VAR didn’t deem it enough of an oversight to intervene. Bizarre. We’ve only seen one ref give a penalty for such an infringement so far, there needs to be more but then it’ll probably be Walker that gets done for it.
So it wasn’t as great a performance as Lineker, Shearer, Lampard and the disconsolate duck Ferdinand would have you believe. It was achieved in spite of Southgate who seems determined, for all his talk, to hinder the side. But it makes you wonder, looking at the rest of the competition, what could a decent manager do with these players, the right players playing the right way?