St George’s flag is still flying – what a difference a red shirt makes!
June 23, 2010

St George’s flag can remain flying over the House of Commons for a little while longer. What a difference a win makes. Yes we were on the edge of our seats, because one goal wasn’t enough, but everything that had been missing from the first two games, was there and we started to look a half decent side.

There was pride in this performance, endeavour and considerable skill, particularly after Jermaine Defoe’s goal had settled early nerves. Every player contributed and it was a real team effort.

Fabio Capello was vindicated. He did not bow to player power (or the media) and stuck with the 4-4-2 formation, with Gerrard playing on the left side of midfield and Joe Cole remaining on the bench.  Defoe, the goal scorer, came in for Heskey but that would have happened anyway. James Milner returned on the right, after missing the Algeria game. His workrate, and the quality of his crossing were outstanding.

Despite the alleged discontent within the training camp, things seem to have been sorted out, the players responded to the coach and everyone  pulled together. That’s why they won’t be flying home early, economy class, like the French (ha ha!)

In fairness John Terry, who led the failed coup against Fabio, was a rock at the back, as were attacking fullbacks Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. Steven Gerrard put in another disciplined captain’s performance. Matthew Upson, who looked shaky to start with, grew into the game and made a wonderful last-ditch tackle at the death.

Rooney is still below par and desperately seeking a goal. He shot twice when he could have played in Milner and when he did have a one on one with the keeper couldn’t get his shot away cleanly.  A goal can’t be far away now and when it comes it will make such a difference to him and the rest of the team.      

Defoe got the goal and his movement up front was a constant threat. His presence, at the exclusion of Heskey, encourages the team to play to feet, rather than opting for the long high ball which was our downfall against Algeria.     

It’s never easy, watching England, but this performance was much better on the eye and they dominated for long periods. A second goal, that never came, would have sealed it and made the last 10 minutes rather more bearable. But we are in the last 16, the first two games can be forgotten, we can draw confidence from this performance and we are still very much in this tournament, well at least until Sunday!      

Ghana, Germany, or Serbia are all possible last 16 opponents. Funnily enough, of the three, I really quite fancy us against the Germans. I trust Fabio will have those disparaging comments from ‘the Kaiser’ pinned up on the dressing room wall – team talk done!

Oh yes, and another thing, what a difference a shirt makes. Stick with the red – there’s a quite a good precedent!

The Kaiser, the Jabulani and the Vuvuzela!
June 15, 2010

The football on display must be pretty poor if the column inches are taken up with complaints about the match ball, the decibel levels achieved by the Zulu horn and the snide ramblings of Franz Beckenbauer!

Given that a reliable ball, which the players feel comfortable with, is fairly fundamental to a decent game, why oh why do we have these ‘quality’ issues at every international tournament?  

When Adidas launched the Jabulani ball, back in February, we were told its new technology would “enhance the thrill and excitement of the game.” Well there is no sign of that so far and in fact it might be argued that the players are so distrustful of it that they are playing with extra caution, therefore detracting from the game as spectacle. Yesterday, one match commentator rather disparagingly likened the Jabulani to, “those plastic balls you get free with petrol!”   

Arguably, the Germans are the only team, to date, to play with any degree of confidence and flair and they have been using this ball in their domestic Bundesliga for the last four months. The English Premier League is contractually bound to Nike and the England team to Umbro, so our boys haven’t been able to use it until four weeks ago.  Questions about competing on an even playing field spring to mind!

It’s marvellous what one good result has done to restore German confidence. The German coach, and fashion guru, Joachim Loew had come under considerable pressure back home, following his squad selection,  and we were told it was the weakest in years. Four goals later, all be it against the Aussies, and football supremo Franz Beckenbauer feels confident enough to pop his, not unsubstantial,  head above the parapet and have a pop at Capello and England’s style of play: “What I saw from the English had very little to do with football.”

Frankly, Beckenbauer, ‘the Kaiser’, an iconic figure of German football has never got over 1966 and never passes up an opportunity to criticise the old enemy. If I were Capello, I’d thank him for providing a ready-made team talk for when the two countries, almost inevitably, meet later in the tournament.

I’d also be having a quiet word with Jamie Carragher, who is whingeing a tad too much and was quoted today as saying the Jubulani ball is giving the Germans an unfair advantage. That’s exactly the sort of ‘fear’ they thrive on. It’s rather disconcerting that we already appear to be stock-piling excuses!

Finally, the controversial droning vuvuzelas continue to split public opinion.  If it is such an import aspect of South African football culture, which it appears to be, then clearly it has to be accepted and should not be banned at this late stage.

Anyway it’s not just Africans who are using them. They have caught on with supporters of every country. For FIFA to ban them would be the equivalent of banning chanting in England or the Mexican wave in South America!  Surely, professional players are trained to focus and are able shut out much of the noise and as for TV viewers; I’d be surprised if  technicians aren’t able to reduce the background noise level, which I’m sure will happen as the tournament progresses.