Match Of The (Mid)Week: England 2-2 Czech Republic

4 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   August 21, 2008  |     9

Friendly internationals, we are told, are not about the result. They’re about the performance, and about preparing the team for competitive matches to come. What, then, are we to make of a match when more or less the only thing to come from a friendly match that can so much as remotely be regarded as positive is the result? What are we to make of a match in which even the result isn’t that positive and comes about thanks to a goal that wouldn’t have looked out of place in “The Keystone Kops Go Sokker”? Ultimately, to say that there are causes for concern over the prognosis for England’s World Cup qualifying campaign would be a massive understatement.

In the past, it was easy to identify where the problems came from with England. Now, there seem to be so many that it’s difficult to know where to start. Defensively, they still seem curiously afraid to commit to tackle when the ball is clearly in a dangerous area. At the front, the one genuinely world class player lacks a foil and fins himself having to run into deeper and deeper positions just to get a touch of the ball. At one point in the first half, Wayne Rooney won the ball and looked up for someone to pass to. He was, however, barely twenty-five yards from his own goal. There were seven players ahead of him but there was still no-one to pass the ball to. The biggest cause for concern, however, is the midfield. It is curiously one-paced, with precious little creativity and and a curiously disinterested look about them. Small wonder that Wayne Rooney ends up practically on his own goal line, desperate for a kick of the ball. It’s the best chance that he’ll get.

Even the goals didn’t inspire much confidence. The came as the result of an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration which allowed Wes Brown to sneak in and head them level just before half-time. The second came in injury time at the end of the match, with most of the people that hadn’t already left Wembley already starting to inhale in preparation of their first long, hard booing session of the season. It was eventually scuffed in by Joe Cole, whose appearance from the bench was the only other aspect of the evening that could be regarded as anything like a success. It was an appropriately disjointed end to a fairly shambolic evening, and Fabio Capello’s fist-clenched reaction was a fairly apt metaphor for The State Of Things. A last minute equaliser in a friendly match against The Czech Republic is getting on for being a cause for celebration.

It’s difficult to not be critical of Capello at this point. This generation of England players isn’t doing the job, and won’t be able to do the job in two years’ time. Now is the time to abandon Beckham, Gerrard, Ashley Cole and the rest of them. They’ve had their run, and they’re not up to the job. Capello needs to start fishing around the under-21 team and the Championship looking for players that at will at least be capable of improving. Things aren’t as bad as they were under Steve McClaren – one at least feels that the manager is in charge of team selection at the moment – but they haven’t improved enough. England should have enough to scrape their way past a very moderate Ukraine side and into second place in their group for a place in the play-offs in the World Cup finals, but look at this group: Croatia, Ukraine, England, Kazakhstan,  Belarus & Andorra. Kazakhstan will and Belarus will surely never have a better chance to qualify for a World Cup finals than this, and Ukraine certainly won’t have seen anything to worry about last night.

We’ll know much more about England’s chances in a couple of week’s time. After what should be a routine win against Andorra, they have to travel to Zagreb to play Croatia. We all know what happened on the last two occasions that they played them. Croatia’s performance at Euro 2008 was hardly earth shattering, but they were still inhabiting a different footballing universe to poor old ragged England, and it’s not far short of impossible to see how they would get the three or four points from their two matches against Croatia that they will almost certainly need in order to qualify in top place. They may need to beat Ukraine in Kiev to secure that second place spot. The more you think about it, the more sobering the reality of England’s current predicament becomes.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • August 21, 2008 at 10:59 pm


    I think it’s an interesting point about Rooney and I agree largely. My opinion with the England side is that you take your best players and build around their strengths. Rooney would fall into this catergory (and I’ll disagree with you by saying Gerrard does too).

    When has Rooney played really well for England though? His peak was playing in a 4-4-1-1 sort of role where he could drop somewhat deep and collect the ball in between the opposition defence and midfield. The thing stopping England playing this system at the moment is the lack of a suitable striker to lead the line. Owen and WR had a decent partnership and could do again, but questions remain over Owen’s physical prescence and his ever-decreasing pace. For Newcastle he is being deployed in a deeper role with Martins and / or Viduka ahead of him so maybe he is not up to the task of playing on the shoulder of the defenders at international level anymore.

    None of the other strikers to have been experimented with have proved hugely successful. Capello seems to like Defoe but he’ll need to improve if he wants to keep a place in the side. Crouch had a good scoring record but wasn’t even in the squad for some reason. Also, he’s one of those players that it is easy to drop and face no recriminations from media or fans. Andy Johnson, Darren Bent & Emile Heskey all have the pace and physicality to play the foil to Rooney but do they have the required skill needed to out-think top quaility defences?

    Playing a four in midfield to accomodate Rooney also poses problems. Personally I’d have Gerrard’s name on the team sheet and work around him, and in the middle of the park. He shoudn’t suffer like Essien does at Chelsea where he is so versatile that inferior players get picked in his position ahead of him. Barry provides good balance so play him in the middle alongside him. That leaves two wide midfielders to choose. Joe Cole should be a lock on the left although a case could be made for Ashley Young. I’d retire Beckham because he contributes so little at this point and give a few games to the natural successor, David Bentley. A 4-4-1-1 of:

    Cole Barry Gerrard Bentley

    …looks good on paper but if you haven’t got a focal point then the whole thing is negated. The only person I see likely to be the missing link any time soon is Dean Ashton. The main knocks against him are his weight (and subsequent lack of pace) and his proneness to injury. If he can stay fit long enough then he more than deserves a few games to try and make the slot his own. Until then, Ivanhoe should carry on purely because he’s the best have at linking the play even thoug he provides so little goalscoring threat. Darren Bent should also come under consideration if he starts playing well for Spurs in what looks like being a similar system with Modric playing off him.

    4-3-3 or 4-5-1 are experiements that always get written off for wasting Rooney. it is claimed that he is not involved in the game enough to justify his talent when played either side of a main striker and is responsible for tracking back etc. At the same time he seems unsuitable / unwilling to play as a lone frontman and as we have seen in the past when tried there – his frustration at being isolated leads to aggressive outbursts. Portugal, 2006 springs to mind.

    While the GK is not decided, Foster, Kirkland, Green and James are all pretty solid in my mind and I wouldn’t object to seing any of them in goal. Similarly, the defence seems set in stone (although where on earth is Micah Richards?) and seem settled as a unit.

    The problem can be defined by the problem with Rooney. And there is only a problem with Rooney because we lack a suitable striker to play the 4-4-1-1 that so clearly seems the best solution. It may have seemed unthinkable until just now, but I think I’ve convinced myself that any success in the next two years lies on the pizza-bolstered shoulders of West Ham’s number nine. Maybe we have more problems than I thought…

  • August 21, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Is Ashton the answer to Rooney’s problem? « The View From The Shelf

    […] it ended up being slightly longer than planned so I decided to cross-post it here as well.  The original post can be found here, if you’re looking for some sort of […]

  • August 21, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Allan Moore

    One suspects i will be dusting down and re-writing this post in 18 months time then…

  • August 22, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Croatia » Croatia (Country Guide)

    […] Match Of The (Mid)Week: England 2-2 Czech RepublicAfter what should be a routine win against Andorra, they have to travel to Zagreb to play Croatia. We all know what happened on the last two occasions that they played them. Croatia’s performance at Euro 2008 was hardly earth shattering … […]

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