England & the United States Draw Even
By Lawrence Ostlere
The much anticipated battle between England and the United States was tense, if not thrilling, as the old allies shared the spoils. While the States will be pleased to have drawn their opening game with a performance full of promise, England will be disappointed not to have shown the full quality the team possesses.
One of England’s main concerns will be their attack. Coach Fabio Capello has entered this tournament with his forwards’ set-up under scrutiny, and this performance will have failed to convince critics that using Rooney in a deep role behind Heskey brings the best out of England’s star man. Many believe Rooney is best when leading the line himself, particularly as he scored 34 goals this season playing as the most advanced forward for Manchester United. When considering that Steven Gerrard has played his past few seasons just behind Fernando Torres at Liverpool, it is even more perplexing that not only does Capello favour playing Heskey, he has not even tested the Rooney-Gerrard partnership in a recent friendly. For all Heskey’s physical attributes, his finishing was once again suspect and he still has work to do silence his critics.
England’s goal aside, the States’ defence held firm against his colossal presence, and substitute Crouch’s height, as Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit stepped up to the challenge. When England did break through, Tim Howard showed his quality with good saves from Heskey, Lampard and Wright-Phillips. The American midfield also provided reliable cover defensively as Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark looked composed with the ball and combative without - although he lost track of Gerrard on the goal. This solid base to the team shows excellent promise for the States’ hope of progressing further and will be a key to a successful campaign.
England will also be pleased with their central-midfield pairing. Gerrard and Lampard have often made an ineffective partnership, too similar and attack-minded, but against the US showed balance and cohesion. However, England will look forward to the return of the injured Gareth Barry alongside Lampard in order to liberate Gerrard from his defensive responsibilities. Capello can then further exploit his attacking gifts, exemplified by his well-taken goal.
Whilst the English attacking set-up will need assessing, the States were well balanced. Landon Donovan showed the same quality and technical skills on the right wing that won him great praise during his brief Premier League stint with Everton this season. Jozy Altidore looked well capable of leading the line, proving a handful on more than one occasion, and his strength and speed to get away from Carragher in the second half only to see his shot turned onto the post shows why he will be important to US progress. 24 year-old Robbie Findley had a quiet game and Bob Bradley may decide that the forward’s pace is more a more effective weapon when deployed towards the end of games as a substitute. Clint Dempsey looked threatening from the left and scored the equalising goal, if a touch fortuitously, after a calamitous error by England’s Robert Green.
Goalkeeper is England’s most uncertain position and this match will have only added fuel to the fire of this particular debate. With Green’s confidence undoubtedly shaken, Capello could turn to 39-year old David James, but the veteran has his own history of blunders, earning him the nickname ‘Calamity James’. The alternative is rookie Joe Hart. The Manchester City keeper, who had a terrific season on loan at Birmingham City, is undoubtedly a precocious talent, but at just 23 years old and with only 3 caps to his name, it would be a risk. However, it could be one worth taking – after all, Capello has always insisted his selection policy will be based on current form, and no English goalkeeper has been in better form than Hart, who exuded confidence in both warm up games.
It is still early in the tournament and both teams will believe they can overcome Slovenia, the smallest nation in the tournament, and Algeria, who have the lowest world ranking in Group C. Much more important, then, could be the race to finish top of the group in order to avoid a difficult tie in the second round, with Germany – who last failed to reach the quarter final stage 32 years ago – likely to await the team that finish second.
Lawrence Ostlere is a freelance writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org