13. England

What Went Right?  England, as usual, had a very strong midfield, especially in the center. Made decent use of diagonal runs and showed good movement by their central midfielders. Defensive/holding midfielders were stout, as was the center of their defense, which was organized and disciplined for most of their stay in South Africa. England was good at defending set pieces. Best part about their attack was their forward flankers, who made very good runs into the penalty area, opened up space in the final third, and made decent service and crosses inside. Aerial ability was pretty decent.

What Went Wrong?  Attack was confused at best, atrocious at worst. England couldn’t string together enough passes to find openings. Outside of the wingers they played with virtually no pace or tempo. Their attack looked disjointed and lacked any creativity or vision. Because of this they were reduced to taking wild long range shots that came nowhere close to the target. Service up front in the form of direct passes, long balls and through balls was infuriating. They were slow and sluggish, more times than not looking like they were just standing around or had heavy weights in their boots, and even when they did play with any urgency late in games it looked more scattershot than organized. As has been the case for more than 12 years now, their finishers and target men were simply hideous, not getting on the end of whatever service they were getting and taking wildly bad shots. When that happened England would leave lots of space and gaps open in the back for their opponents to exploit, which they did. Adding insult to injury, were the recipient of probably the worst goalkeeping in the tournament. In a group they should have easily run over England just barely made it out. Just another one in a long line of recent lackluster performances by a side that thinks of itself as elite. Hard to believe that this was the side that kicked ass and took names during qualifying. They finished behind the colonies (that had to rankle).

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  Wingers James Milner and Aaron Lennon were simply spectacular and clearly the best part of this side. Forward Jermaine Defoe was easily the best and most active front player they had. Matthew Upson and Gareth Barry were reliable stoppers in front of the backline. Until getting picked apart by Germany in the Round of 16, center backs John Terry and Ledley King (with an assist from Jamie Carragher and Upson surprisingly) were as good as it got. Left back Ashley Cole was his usual shutdown in the rear and was competent going forward, while right back Glen Johnson surprised us with his defensive quality. Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips played commendably off the bench.

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Goalkeeper Robert Green played the first game, totally embarrassed himself on Clint Dempsey shot he bumbled, and was never heard from again. His replacement, David James, fared only slightly better, which still wasn’t very good. The linchpins of the midfield, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, were worse than four years ago and that’s saying a lot; they both played like they were confused about their roles, as if they didn’t know who was the playmaker and who was the orchestrator. Just don’t get me started on the player they expected to carry them, Wayne Rooney; he got on the end of nothing, scored nothing and created nothing. When Defoe wasn’t in the game and Rooney wasn’t the target man, Emile Heskey was; he stunk, too. Being 6’8” is not a good enough reason to keep putting Peter Crouch on the national side.

How Was The Coaching?  Surprisingly bad. Fabio Capello was supposed to be the uber-tactician whose refuse-to-lose quality and technical smarts would finally get England at least to the semifinals. For a side that ran over all who took the field against them for two years to play this badly at the absolute wrong time clearly is the fault of the coach. Yet England is going to keep him.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  Obviously not.

Now What?  Since the English FA is intent on keeping Capello, then they will continue to run over teams in qualification for the European Championship and the World Cup. But once there, don’t expect it to get any better than this. Otherwise, do something to identify a reliable scorer up front. And Jesus, Mary and Joseph will you please, please, PLEASE get a decent goalkeeper?! For crying out loud, you are the country that gave the world Peter Shilton and Ray Clemense. If the United States has been able to find star-quality goalkeepers over the last 16 years they why the hell can’t you?!

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