The US of A were clearly delighted to take a point from England in this opening encounter, and you could see why: when England played as they can they cut through the USA with ease and should have scored more goals. However, the combined efforts of a stubborn and disciplined US side and the lacklustre form of England themselves combined to make this a match full of frustration for England fans.
That said, it’s important to remember – and no, this isn’t where I say that it’s game one and there’s plenty of time to go, that’s bollocks, we should be beating the USA – no, it’s important to remember that if Fabio Capello had chosen the best English goalkeeper to start the match, we would almost certainly have three points and be clear top of Group C right now.
The simple fact is that Joe Hart is a better goalkeeper than either David James or Rob Green and to pretend otherwise is ludicrous. The elder custodians do not bring the reassurance that experience should provide – they always look liable to make a howler and ‘lo and behold Green let in the simplest of shots, and one of only one or two efforts on target that the USA could muster. With Hart in goal, I confidently predict England would have kept a clean sheet, the game would have been totally different and we’d have won the game by more than one goal.
And the comments after the match from England’s players frustrate me, as Gerrard implied that the Jabulani was the cause of Green’s howler. The ball was not at fault for the goal. It was hit with little real power and no swerve, and it went straight at Green. It was purely a lapse in concentration and a lack of technique. He failed to get his body behind the ball and – despite being well aware of the pressure he was under and the faith that Capello had shown in him – Green had switched off after a quiet half of football, and it has cost us.
Things had started so well too. The England goal was really well worked, Heskey proving his worth to the England team by playing in Gerrard with a lovely touch and England’s new captain pounced and produced a brilliant finish with the outside of his boot. But that, sadly, was about as good as it got.
Heskey played well for the most part, but scorned numerous headed chances and one gilt-edged one when one on one with Tim Howard. I’m afraid that an international footballer – nevermind an international striker – should never miss an opportunity like that.
At centre-back too, England have problems. Ledley King did OK in the first half, though he and John Terry were a bit slack when it came to defending set pieces from which the Americans looked dangerous, but King’s exit at half time seems to justify the concerns of those of us who felt he was too much of a risk to take to South Africa. If he is now injured and unavailable for the next game or games, that creates problems. It means Terry will be given another new partner and robs us of consistency in the one place where you really need an effective partnership.
Jamie Carragher also showed that he is not the answer if King is injured with a display that showed just why I thought Capello was mad to have recalled him. Booked within 14 minutes of being on the pitch after making a series of poor tackles he was also constantly exposed for pace by Jozy Altidore, which almost cost England a number of times. The partnership of Terry and Carragher is far too slow for World Cup football.
Shaun Wright-Phillips disappointed too, all too often surrendering possession lightly as he tried to jink past his opponent and instead fell over the ball, and I would hope that against Slovenia and Algeria Milner will be recalled (he was clearly suffering with his illness today and shouldn’t be judged on that performance) or even to see Joe Cole given a go, as he would bring some much-needed invention to the England table.
Finally, Capello needs to give his players a rocket. They allowed the USA far, far too much possession today, and that was the problem. It wasn’t that the US looked dangerous in possession, they didn’t really most of the time. But we were not hungry enough to get the ball off them and as a result we didn’t see nearly enough of the ball. When we did have the ball and retained it, we looked a threat every time, but it simply didn’t happen often enough.
Better teams, if afforded that kind of time on the ball and that amount of possession, will punish us. We have to utilise the pace of the English game, get at our opponents and not let them settle on the ball. And our players need to show a lot more hunger and fight than they did today.
As I said at the beginning, the USA were delighted with their point, and so they should be. They’ve now got every chance of pipping England to top the group, and they played well today. Solid, organised and comfortable in possession, they didn’t let England settle and it paid off. Short on real quality – only really the mercurial Donovan is a constant threat – they will cause teams problems because of their organisation and commitment.
Ultimately then, a frustrating day at the office for England, and all the more so because we still have no idea who will line up in the next match. Surely Green will be dropped, someone is probably needed to replace King (for me, it has to be Dawson), and the left-wing spot is wide open (where-oh-where is Adam Johnson?), while Capello may wonder whether Crouch can offer more than Heskey up front. Not only have we not got the three points that we should have had, but we’ve got a whole new set of uncertainties to deal with.
Where England are concerned, nothing is ever simple.