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The case for the defense

October 11th, 2009 by · No Comments · Features, Football

Although the final score suggested otherwise, the game against Croatia could have been very different. England, probably due to being 2-0 up, started the second half in sloppy fashion. Croatia could have scored 5 minutes into the second half and should have been awarded a penalty after 55 minutes thanks to a clumsy barge by Glen Johnson on Eduardo da Silva. That could have changed the game. Being 2-1 or even 2-2 after 10 minutes of the restart would have shaken the players and who knows how they might have reacted.

‘What ifs’ may be great fun, if of limited value, but the match against Ukraine showed further evidence that this team will have to improve considerably to survive into the later stages of any major competition. Not least defensively.

Johnson seems to be the favored option for Capello at Right Back but has shown a frightening lack of composure. He’s probably our best defender going forward but regularly the weak link when the opposition attack. Options at right back include Wes Brown [not fit and not playing regularly], Gary Neville [surely too old even for one more competition], Micah Richards [untried at this level and Capello is not convinced by his bling lifestyle]. A real worry.

Left Back is a more settled and stable position. Incumbent Ashley Cole is playing the best football of his career at Chelsea but he, again, looks better going forward than doing his day job. His poor recovery and positioning for an own goal, against Ukraine, will not have helped his confidence nor that of his colleagues around him. Waiting in the wings are Wayne Bridge [solid if uninspiring], and maybe Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock [both lack international experience].

The core of any successful tournament team is Central Defense. What, only recently, looked one of the most settled areas is beginning to crumble. Rio Ferdinand, surely the most naturally gifted defender that England has seen in a long time, continues to lack focus. His errors in important games, shown again against Ukraine, will be a decisive factor in knockout competitions. Although he has rarely been physically fit in recent months it’s the mental lapses that will cost England dear. Strong cover for the position are Lescott and Upson and, to a lesser extent Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka. None are as complete a player as Ferdinand and none have anywhere near his international experience. The only players that could match Ferdinand for skills are Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate. Both are unlikely to be fit for long enough to make the squad, let alone the team, in time for the tournament.

The one bright spot is John Terry. He’s a solid, generally dependable, central defender. Ok, so he’s not as good as the press, nor himself, make out. Many a tabloid hack throws the ‘world class’ tag around, particularly when it comes to discussing the ‘spine’ of the England team [Terry, Gerard, Lampard, Rooney]. But let’s be honest. Terry is no Booby Moore, Beckenbauer or Passerella. They were World Class. He’s not even up there with Barasi, Maldini, Keoman or even Carles Puyol. What he is, though, is England’s key player in defense who, whether captain or not, will have to hold the team together and paper over the cracks in the rest of the defense.

Let’s hope he’s up to it.

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