Day: July 1, 2006

Can They? Well… Can They?

There’s an hour and forty minutes, and I hope it’s not as hot in Gelsenkirchen as it is in Brighton. It’s absolutely sweltering here. I know the heat is no excuse, but if it’s anything there like it is here, they’ll be slowed down to a crawl within about five minutes. The title of this piece is something of a rhetorical question. Of course they “can”. Whether they “will” or not is, however, a completely different question. First, then, the bad news. England have struggled in every match they’ve played in this World Cup. Whilst the press slating of everything English has been over the top (as if we could reasonably expect anything better), there are real and genuine concerns about their ability to compete at this level of international football with Sven Goran Eriksson in charge. There have been too many individual errors and lapses in concentration. The tactics often don’t appear to have anything resembling a Plan B if all’s not going well, apart from something made up on the spot. Eriksson doesn’t appear to have any motivational skills at all. How is he going to get that extra 10% out of them if he needs to? I’m not sure he even knows the answer to that himself. If the find themselves a goal down with twenty minutes to play, where is the attacking guile required to...

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Italy 3-0 Ukraine In the midst of three closely match quarter-finals, this one always seemed likely to be the one that was slightly more lop-sided than the rest. Ukraine, with the best will in the world, had looked rather like Shevchenko plus ten, and that’s not enough to beat a team like Italy. From the kick-off, the Ukrainians came out fighting (a welcome relief after their anodyne performance against Switzerland – they were spared widespread criticism only because the Swiss were even worse), but it all started going wrong for them on six minutes, when Shovkovskiy appeared to mis-judge Zambrotta’s shot for the opening goal. First viewing seemed to indicate that he’d got a hand on the shot but not enough of one to turn the ball around the post. The replay showed that the ball appeared to have gone through his arms. For the remainder of the first half, the Ukrainians slipped into a torpor, and were seeming to playing a damage-limitation exercise. It was a shame to see Shevchenko cutting such an isolated figure up front, his team-mates seemingly unable or unwilling to supply the balls that he needed to make his fullest contribution. At half-time in the BBC studio, Martin O’Neill raged at them, calling on Oleg Blokhin to make tactical changes and for his team to have a bit more of a go at them...

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