Sunday, October 09, 2005

World Cup qualifying: England v. Austria (1-0)

After England's last few games, I'm beginning to wonder if this is some kind of deliberate strategy so that their opponents at the World Cup will be lulled into a false sense of security. Could Sven be that conniving?


Yes, they got the three points, yes, they're through to the next round, but ouch. It wasn't pretty. England played well enough in the first half, but not outstandingly. They had several chances and couldn't seem to convert them at all -- two or three of those cases where there was a ball played across the box and all the England players just stood there and watched it, as if they were all waiting for the other guy to get it. ("After you, Alphonse." "No, no, after you, Gaston.")

So they go into halftime up only 1-0, and that on a penalty kick. No surprise, then, that the Austrians came out stronger in the second half -- or, perhaps more accurately, the English team started panicking. If they'd been able to open up a two- or three-goal lead, I suspect Beckham wouldn't have felt like he needed to go into those tackles on Ibertsberger so recklessly (and let's face it, tackling has never exactly been his forte). Although the second yellow card was a horrible call by the referee -- definitely a dive by the Austrian player -- the first one was a bit harsh but still fair. And Beckham has enough experience playing at this level that he should have known better, particularly when he was already running the risk of suspension if he picked up a yellow in this game.

Sometimes a booking like that can galvanize a team into action, spurring them to play better. I played in a game a few weeks ago that was tied 1-1 when one of our players was sent off after a second yellow card...and we went on to win 3-1. England just got more panicky, trying desperately to hang on to the ball and their chance at the World Cup. At the pub where I watched the game, we were all intensely relieved to hear the final whistle. And even more relieved to hear the results of the Holland-Czech Republic game.

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