Thursday, October 13, 2005

World Cup qualifying: England v. Poland (2-1)

Well, that was much better. I think the scoreline actually flattered Poland. Although they fielded a good team -- a "proper team", as Michael Owen might have put it -- England dominated the game, just as they should have been dominating this qualifying group all along.

You have to wonder, though, if they can only play well in games where there's no pressure. If that's true, then the World Cup finals are going to be awfully tough. (Of course, it also doesn't explain that abysmal friendly against Denmark.)

You also have to wonder how it is that they can play so much better without two of the players on FIFA's shortlist for the World Player of the Year. Already questions are being raised about whether Beckham and Gerrard really deserve their place in the starting XI.

The short answer: Yes, they do.

Beckham may be a "flash bastard" (to quote Wayne Rooney) with a squeaky voice and ridiculous hair. On the other hand, he's been in great form for Real Madrid so far this season, consistently hitting those wicked crosses for the strikers to feed on. I've always thought he's a bit overrated, but that's mostly because there's just so much hype surrounding him. It's virtually impossible to live up to that, even if you're, say, Ronaldinho (and speaking of ridiculous hair...). Anyway, Becks' performance has been good enough to earn him his spot. He's going to be the focus of intense media speculation anyway, but just imagine how much worse the hullaballoo would be if you left him out.

As for Stevie G, he does have an unfortunate tendency to hare all over the field -- in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Animal from the Muppets ("RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR! MUST SCORE GOALS!"). And no, he hasn't managed to gel with Lampard yet. But if he can manage to bring a fraction of what he does for Liverpool to his England game, then he's well worth including.

Now Sven has eight months and a couple of friendlies to figure out just how to do that -- whether to keep Ledley King (or one of the other possible candidates) in as a holding midfielder and move either Gerrard or Lampard out to the left, or to lock Frank and Stevie in a room until they figure out how to work together (the solution I kind of favour, for the sheer amusement value) and leave a spot for Joe Cole or Sean Wright-Phillips on the wing.

The situation is much more straightforward up front, although I remain kind of bewildered by Peter Crouch. Neither Sven nor Rafa Benitez seems to have figured out quite what to do with him. Yeah, yeah, good touch for a big man and all that, but he still comes off as somewhat limited to me. I know you need someone with the size to balance out the otherwise vertically challenged front line, and Crouch certainly has the height, but he looks like he'd tip over in a stiff breeze. I suppose eight months isn't enough time to feed him up a bit.

No comments: