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All Things Footie | Wednesday, June 30 | Jordan

Euro 2004: So far, so good

And now, two intriguing semi-finals. My money’s on a Czech Republic vs. Portugal final with Portugal winning via a Deco thunderbolt—a Brazilian player scoring the winning goal for his Brazilian manager. So I’m predicting that ‘Big Phil’ Scolari will win both the World Cup and European Championship in two years, and in the process become the first ever ‘foreign’ manager to win either. Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Otto Rehhagal’s disciplined Greek side upset the apple-cart tonight and set up a replay of the opening game of the tournament; an opening game that saw the aforementioned ‘Phil’ get a hell of a lot of stick from his adopted country, and the wider international football press. Following some fine performances against Spain and England—and likely requiring another tomorrow to overcome the Dutch—I think he’s vindicated himself.

It’s been one of the tightest Championships I can remember, so many games won by a single goal or penalty shoot-out, last minute winners and equalisers in almost every game. It’s no surprise though; there’ve been a lot of cautious tactics from the big sides, mainly because every team seemed weighed down by accumulated expectation. England with a fully fit squad boast about this being their best chance at a trophy for years; Portugal’s ‘last chance’ for the likes of Figo, Couto and Rui-Costa (on top of the pressure that comes with being the host nation); France looking to make up for their disappointing World Cup in 2002; Italy likewise; Spain widely tipped as likely winners. I found it funny that the Czech Republic were tipped as ‘dark horses’ by just about everyone, doesn’t that stop them being quite so dark? There has been pressure on the Czech side, no doubt, everyone expects them to do well, and so far they’re the only side not to disappoint once. A 100% winning record so far for Karel Bruckner—and an impressive one—beating Germany, Holland, a surprisingly good Latvia side and a decent Danish team. Write the Eastern Europeans with nerves of steel off at your peril.

It all makes my predictions in the first paragraph seem a little hasty doesn’t it? My hunch, from the start, has been Holland; but I can’t see them beating the Czechs, Greece or Portugal. My head says that Bruckner, Baros and Nedved’s Czech Republic should coast it. My heart wants Portugal’s entertainers to win on home soil and give Scolari a piece of history. The only team I have no feeling for is Greece; which almost certainly means that on Sunday evening, Otto Rehhagel will be celebrating with his unsung Hellenic Heroes. It would be fitting with the Olympics returning to Greece this summer too.

If there’s one thing that’s stuck out in the Championships so far, it’s the contrast of coaches. I’ve always thought that big names and big egos are rarely good coaches, yet all the big nations insist on employing these figureheads—almost regardless of ability. Eriksson, Trappatoni, Voller, Advocaat and Santini are all guilty of making simply shocking decisions, substitutions and tactical rearrangements—and are more at fault for their countries’ poor showings than players, referees and anyone else. The ‘smaller’ nations are picking up classy, unappreciated managerial talent: see Rehhagel, Bruckner, and Scolari. It’s as if the better sides feel they don’t need good management, just a face to put out at press conferences.

Eriksson has been shocking, barely got an important decision right all tournament; Trappatoni is almost not worth mentioning he made so many errors of judgement (taking Gattuso off when you’re trying to hold on to a lead?); Voller throwing a defensive midfielder on when Germany were chasing the game; Advocaat taking Davids off against the Czechs; Jacques Santini having some mildly worrying delusions about Sylvain Wiltord being able to contribute more than Robert Pires, and almost completely ignoring the fact that when you’ve got the best forward in the World on your side, you should probably try and play his game.

It’s a victory for the little men. A victory for the hard working teams who play for each other—the players and managers no schoolboy wants in his sticker book. Almost like Liverpool’s ‘victory’ over Roman Abramovich’s approach for Steven Gerrard. Stick it where the sun don’t shine Roman, some things are more important than bank balances.

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All Things Footie | Friday, June 25 | Jordan

Strength is depth

While France can bring on World Cup Winners and experienced Internationals, Portugal can bring on natural born goalscorers and players who’ve had nearly a decade in Serie A first teams—even Germany can bring on players with at least two major International tournaments under their belts—England had Darius Vassell, Emile Heskey, Joe Cole and Kieron Dyer as realistic options once Wayne Rooney suffered an unfortunate injury. That’s why England lost last night. Dodgily disallowed goals and sloppy defending from Phil Neville are not the sum total of England’s problems. Throughout the ninety minutes Portugal were by far the better side; though saying that they didn’t look like they’d score if they were still playing now. Unfortunately for England, Ronnie O’Svennigan switched hands and tried to prove his dexterity by bringing on Phil Neville. Bad move Sven, a tired, half-fit, out-of-form Paul Scholes or Steven Gerrard is still a million times better than Phil Neville. England’s negativity was rewarded as they surrendered all posession in midfield and set up a shooting gallery for the Portuguese team.

For once, no one dare blame the England defence. Given that the other seven players on the field seemed wholly disinterested in playing, it was only some fabulous and heroic defending from Gary Neville, John Terry, Sol Campbell, and in particular Ashley Cole that stopped Portugal creating many more chances than they did. In fact, Neville and Cole kept Figo and Ronaldo so quiet that Portugal’s two (supposedly) most influential players barely retained the ball for more than two or three touches at a time. Figo was withdrawn early, and Ronaldo surely only remained on the pitch due to his astonishing fitness levels. Last night Cole produced one of the finest full-back performances I’ve ever seen—against a young winger with pace, fitness and a sackfull of tricks (not to mention a referee that blew up everytime anyone in green and burgundy flung themselves groundwards). Particularly late on, and in extra time, Portugals only outlet seemed to be Ronaldo, every ball found him on the right wing, and every time he brought it down, there was Cole on his shoulder to disposess him and start an English break. Not mistiming any tackles, rarely wasting the ball and never stopping running, we could have done with four Coles in midfield.

Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Neville and Lampard were all very, very poor last night. Almost inexcusably so. Beckham looked disinterested, and though he played some delicious balls through the Portugal defence and tracked back well, he never looked comitted, never looked willing to take the game by the scruff of the neck. That’s why he’s not a captain—captains are never disinterested. Gerrard was sloppy, silly and out-of-touch with the rest of his team—his last few games have been the poorest I’ve seen him play in an England shirt; he bottled it on the big stage. For large periods of the game it was back to the Gerrard that looks overrated—aimless, wasteful long balls desperately trying to find Owen, completely unwilling to play it short, keep it simple. Scholes kept his head down, worked hard, tried to do his job, but looked unfit out of luck. Lampard is the one player that though he played poorly, can hold his head up; he kept plugging, kept trying, kept running; even though you could see he was shattered. His goal was reward for keeping a cool head and desperately trying to be in the right place at the right time. The midfield’s problem was cohesion and organisation, no communication, no one picking out easy passes, all of them trying to be match winners—and when you look at the character of each player in there, it’s not surprising; they’re all used to that role.

History has a habit of repeating itself, and both Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal and Phil Neville’s dopey attempt at a challenge on Rui-Costa costing England late in the day harked back to failures past (v Argentina, 1998 and v Romania 2000 respectively). It would have been poetic if one of the players that had been dominating the only area of the pitch England did well and scored the winner from a corner in the dying moments. The atrocious Urs Meier wasn't interested though, I said before the game to a friend that he was a terrible ref and could ruin the game, and while whether he did the latter or not is dependant on your nationality, there's no doubt about my former statement. He's shocking, so easily influenced by the crowd (both England and Portuguese fans) and so determined to please UEFA and his hosts that he completely forgot he was meant to be looking after a game of football. The occasion got to him in the same way it has in every match I've ever seen him referee. I guess it’s what happens when you spend your season refereeing the likes of Grasshoppers and FC Gallen.

Surprise, surprise, a penalty shootout. But the shootout itself was full of surprises. I didn’t think Beckham would bottle it; I thought he may take a poor penalty, but not slash at it like an amateur. It took a lot of guts for Owen to step up second—particularly after Beckham’s miss—but credit to the Liverpool man, he put it away with aplomb. The penalties from Lampard and Hargreaves were equally cool; very unlike England. Coming to the last penalty, I feared for Ashley Cole—the script is written for the defender to cock up his penalty, and off the back of a great game, a miss was almost inevitable. A cooler penalty I did not see, with the exception of that of the man he’d thwarted all night—I wondered if Ronaldo felt he could be so cool because for once he didn’t have to try and climb out of Cole’s pocket to kick the ball.

A word on the decisive moment: after Vassell had his penalty saved, it took some balls for goalkeeper Ricardo to volunteer (he’d seemingly not arranged to do so with his teammates) to take the penalty that would win the game. It’s an understatement to say that he didn’t need to put his head on the block like that, and it was a fine penalty; I couldn’t help but applaud his courage and his confidence (literally, applaud). Astonishing, and if anyone in that side deserves to be the hero it’s Sporting Lisbon’s stopper.

Despite England, and more specifically Eriksson’s, tactical dullness and unfathomable negativity, it would be wrong not to praise Portugal. Maniche was everything Scholes or Gerrard should have been in midfield, controlling the play and dictating the game with the equally marvellous Costinha by his side. Nothing was happening for Deco, but he kept at it, only to be thwarted again and again by Campbell & Co. It was a game won in the centre of midfield—Portugal’s defence didn’t do particularly well, and neither Nuno Gomes, Simão Sabrosa, Figo or Ronaldo had a game to remember; mainly due to the stoic defending of England that I keep harping on about.

So it was, and is, as simple as that—and there’s almost a twist of irony that with four central midfielders on the pitch England completely failed to take a grip on the centre of the park. It was the same against France, when Makelele and Vieira dictated the pace of the game. I stand by my thoughts before the tournament that Beckham should have been played centrally with Lampard alongside him, Gerrard out on the right and Bridge, left. Gerrard simply isn’t ready for the kind of responsibility that playing in the centre of midfield at this level requires (remember this is his first major tournament). Lampard’s an old head on young shoulders and looks comfortable as you like at the heart of everything, and Beckham—despite some lapses in confidence and self-belief—could dictate play with his crisp passing and lack of wastefulness. The truth is that Gerrard simply passes to the opposition too often, be it over 4 yards or 40, and that does a team far more damage when it comes from the heart than from out wide.

Of course, having more than eleven English players who are any good would have helped.

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All Things Footie | Tuesday, June 22 | Jordan

Nothing compares to Roon

Maybe I’m an acute sufferer of Rooneyitis, but after England’s first goal last night—as John Motson and Joe Royle went on and on about the part Lampard, Owen and Scholes played—all I could think about was how fabulous Rooney’s header was. Fabulous, mature, visionary; as tidy as any Bergkamp through-ball or Zola flick. Genius. Then he goes and smashes in a rocket from 25 yards, and quite frankly (as if my admiration were not already approaching its limit) I was in awe of young Wayne. His second goal was pretty special too; a great run (and a wonderful one-two with Michael Owen) followed by a fantastic eyeball-dummy to the ‘keeper and a cool finish to the near post—glorious.

Things didn’t start well, but Croatia’s early goal was perhaps the kick up the backside England needed to stir them into action. It’ll be a difficult goal to analyse from Sven’s point of view; both the Goalkeeper, John Terry and Ashley Cole are all potential targets for criticism, but in truth it was simply a combination of a good dead-ball from Croatia and bad luck from England. Collina should have punished Croatia for the blatent push on Ashley Cole that led him to knock the ball towards goal—perhaps James should have come for the cross—either way it’s all academic now, but unlike England’s other set-piece failures this tournament, I don’t think they should worry too much about this one.

It looked nervy for a while after the goal, but as soon as England settled it was clear who was going to win the match. Calm, assured defending—another marvellous, dominating performance from Sol Campbell, and Gary Neville was excellent too—some nice build up play from Lampard, Beckham, Cole and Rooney; all that England lacked was a final ball. Gerrard and Scholes were very poor with their distribution and spent most of the first half giving the ball away. Unusually, Gerrard also seemed completely oblivious of his teammates on numerous occasions, choosing the difficult option over a simple ball. Owen was again miles off the pace, every time he received the ball he spent three touches chasing it back towards his own half, and was just as culpable as the midfield for slowing the team down.

For once, Beckham’s performance last night will go completely unsung. The truth is that England’s captain was excellent on the right side of midfield—he barely wasted a ball, and spent all night being fouled by just about every Croatian player on the pitch. The two or three times he moved inside he dictated play for the time he was there, playing clever balls into unexpected spaces and finding Rooney with slide-rule pass after slide-rule pass. Beckham was not the only player who benefited from moving inside; Scholes had a poor game overall, but his constant running and desire to get in the box paid dividends, and thanks to Rooney’s mercurial vision, he got his first goal in 30 Internationals. I’ve never had Scholes down as a confidence player, but his goal buoyed him, and come the second half he was shooting from distance and stinging the ‘keepers hands like he does for United almost every week.

The advantage of this four-man midfield of very similar players is that if one isn’t having the greatest game (as Gerrard wasn’t last night) then they can be moved to a less conspicuous position. Shifting Gerrard out left benefited Scholes, and England, as Gerrard has just a little more dedication to defensive duties, and offered (the always outnumbered) Ashley Cole more help down the touchline. I really feel sorry for Cole in this England team; on at least five occasions last night he was left with three Croats surrounding him and no support from Gerrard, Scholes or Lampard—it meant that on more than one occasion Sol Campbell had to derelict his central defensive duties to help out the young left-back, which against a more aware forward line could cause serious problems. For the most part I thought Cole handled it really well though, and one-on-one, few Croation players got any change out of the Arsenal man. Cole also offered a serious threat down the left wing, with his crossing far better than it usually is (one excellent ball to Rooney, which the Evertonian miscontrolled, stads out in particular, as well as a neat bit of ball retention and a back hell to Lampard on the Croatian goal-line). Someone needs to have a word with Scholes and tell him that tracking back and covering are not dirty words.

England’s main weakness was exposed last night when substitutes were brought into play; even contemplating having to rely on a midfield of Phil Neville and Ledley King fills me with a cold dread. If ever there was such a thing as a perfect analogy, Frank Skinner found it last night: “Bringing on Phil Neville,” he said “is like when Ronnie O’Sullivan plays left-handed. It’s taking this piss.” Almost perfect—Ronnie O’Sullivan still looks bloody good playing left-handed.

So Rooney’s the top scorer in the tournament, England are the highest scoring team, and it’s the host nation in the Quarter-Finals. It nearly wasn’t to be, after some suicidal defending by Mikael Silvestre in France’s game against Switzerland last night allowed the watch-makers an equaliser, thus setting up an England v Greece QF. Two fine goals from Thierry Henry—the kind that everyone’s been expecting him to score but so far remained disappointed—gave France the three points and a position atop group B.

It’s a shame the either England or Portugal won’t be in the competition anymore after Thursday; the two most enthusiastically supported teams shouldn’t meet this early—though it promises to be one hell of an atmosphere inside the Estadio de Luz on Thursday evening, I think I may join in the revelry in Manchester’s Exchange Square, weather permitting, and enjoy the football whatever the result (prediction? 2-1 England).

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All Things Footie | Friday, June 18 | Jordan

The fountain of Wayne

It’s official. In two consecutive games, Michael Owen has been withdrawn before Wayne Rooney; the first name on most supporters’ teamsheets is the 18 year old Evertonian; Owen is no longer the golden boy of English football. Rooney won’t look upon yesterday afternoon’s game as one of the best performances of his career, nor will he look back on his brace of goals as his best, but in years to come he will look back and know that 17th June 2004 was the day the World (or Europe at least) sat up and took notice.

Before the tournament began, French defender Lilian Thuram demonstrated that he’s not watched England much over the last eighteen months—and not listened to his teammates William Gallas and Mikael Silvestre much either. According to Thuram, Rooney is ‘too young for such a hard competition like this’, and as if to ice the cake, followed it up with ‘Rooney is not Michael Owen - he was a far better player on his debut’. OK son, whatever you say. He’s right on one thing though, Rooney isn’t Owen; thank God. Owen has always depended on being fed balls to chase, on being in that quarter of the eighteen-yard-box that allows him to get a shot away—link up play and holding the ball up have no place in the game of Mr Umbro. He’s a good player, and a goalscorer, but he lacks the touch and refined edge that modern forwards need to get around even the most naïve and inexperienced of defences.

Rooney—even at age 16 on his Everton debut against Tottenham—had more maturity and sophistication to his game than Owen will ever have. His first (Premiership) goal for the club summed up Rooney’s ability, enthusiasm and audacity perfectly. Not many sixteen year olds would dare try a 25-yard screamer against the Champions, Rooney didn’t just dare, he buried it. I doubt he could spell intimidated, let alone feel it. Sure, he has a firey temper, and a side to his game that should be quelled (a side that despite Peter Drury’s comments last night did not ‘raise it’s ugly head’ when Rooney was unfairly booked); that said, the exuberance of youth is not a problem for Rooney, it’s just another asset that will tide him over until he can replace it with experience.

Experience that I’m sorry (for Everton fans) to say that Wayne will only get outside of Goodison park. His performances last season for Everton were—though at times brilliant—on the whole unimpressive. He’s playing in a poor team, and consequently being dragged down to a poor level. By holding on to Rooney, Everton are doing the youngster a real disservice, if he remains at his boyhood club he’ll never progress much further; and he has so much more to give. He needs to be around World Class coaches and World Class players to learn, and develop his game. He needs to be playing in a top side, where his layoffs, dummys and cute touches have great players to link up with. His runs and desire for the ball must be nurtured and rewarded by players and a team that can do him justice.

I know he loves Everton and doesn’t want to leave, but he should be persuaded. He should be persuaded by David Moyes, Bill Kenwright, and anyone else who wants to see this prodigious talent realise his potential. If you love him, let him go. Wherever he goes and whatever he achieves, he’ll always be a blue, just wearing someone else’s shirt.

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All Things Footie | Tuesday, June 15 | Jordan

Guest article: England v France

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and sympathise with the English

For your reading pleasure, a piece from all things footie’s man on the ground in Lisbon, Manuel Poças.

English supporters hadn’t been to Lisbon since 1991, when Arsenal played Benfica in the recently sadly demolished old Stadium Of Light. The weather wasn’t so sickeningly hot then.

For the past week or so shrimp faced Englishmen have become a part of the city’s imagery, drinking heavily and singing badly, but generally well behaved. Fears of big scale riots have been slowly fading away as day’s progress. There aren’t as many fans as I expected, although they’re still easily the biggest support contingent in site. However, the heat is killing them, slowly. I see it in their faces as they stroll through the main streets during the day.

I saw Sunday’s game in Lisbon’s most renowned English pub, packed with fans without tickets. The atmosphere was great, better than in most games I go to in the Portuguese league. Lampard’s header drove everyone mad, and by then I was already partial to England due to the awesome environment around me, drinking away to the sounds of massive come on England every time the English defence cleared a ball and trying to forget Saturday’s 600 km journey to see Portugal’s depressing opening match.

Things carried on with high spirits until the end. Of normal playing time, of course. Then Zidane did what you all know he did. Twice. An epic ending to a not very well played but certainly emotional game that leaved everyone in the pub devastated, particularly this guy in a Wayne Rooney shirt that started crying, kicking chairs and cars parked outside. Fortunately his friends stooped him before he got to mine and an international incident was prevented. Apart from drunken Rooney, the fans in the pub—although gutted—behaved with tremendous fair play and no death threats to Gerrard were heard, unlike what it would have happened if he was playing for Portugal. As I drove home later that night in my unharmed Volkswagen I spotted a few anti-riot police vans in Lisbon’s main square, but no violent outbursts.

Now the shrimp faced people are off to Coimbra, an old University town with colossal beer drinking tradition. It should be fun.

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All Things Footie | Monday, June 14 | Jordan

Nao!

The headline that hailed readers of Portugal’s A Bola on Sunday—in reaction to the host’s opening game defeat to Greece—could easily have headlined a few English papers this morning. “Zi-Zut Alors!” was my favourite today, adorning the free Metro paper that can be found discarded on trains, tubes and buses up and down the country.

Being absolutely, brutally honest, England v France, Sunday 13th June 2004 will go down as one of the most exciting, thrilling and entertaining football matches I have ever had the pleasure to watch. I can’t remember the last time that two teams entertained me so much, and so consistently in such an important game. From practically the first kick of the game it was clear that two very good, very fired up, and very different teams would provide a marvellous 90 minutes of football. Within five minutes, all of the cogs started clicking: slick passing, marvellous touches and some glorious cross field balls from Scholes, Rooney, Gerrard, Beckham and Lampard; some wonderful runs, tricks and flicks from Zidane, Pires, Henry, Vieira and Makelele. You could feel the quality oozing from the TV screen on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t just the creative play that impressed. Cole, Campbell, and King in particular defended the charge of the Musketeers brilliantly for England, and William Gallas made two astonishingly well timed challenges within the first quarter of an hour. Lilian Thuram must have wished he hadn’t said anything about Wayne Rooney’s suitability for inclusion in a Championship squad—the tenacious little scouser gave him hell for most of the game, and forced him to use every ounce of his experience. The tussle between Arsenal teammates Ashley Cole and Robert Pires was absolutely fascinating. Pires started very brightly, running at the England defence, trying to get between Cole and Campbell, and in that time he was able to put two or three fabulous, dangerous balls in to the box. After about half an hour, Pires scored his first personal goal of the day with a delightful nutmeg on Cole, but the young Englishman got his own back a few minutes later with a crunching tackle on his clubmate. From that point on, Cole’s assured defending forced Pires—and the French right-hand side—into a different shape, moving play inside where Scholes and Lampard could help out handling Vieira and Pires.

It was a match about moments. A beautiful turn from Scholes, one touch passes from Zidane, the movement of Henry, sixty yard inch-perfect passes from Beckham, awesome pick-pocket tackling and close control from Vieira. Watching Wayne Rooney shoulder barge the World Player of the Year off the ball—and impudently trying step-overs, feignts and dummys against the absurdly experienced Bixente Lizarazu—reminded me what it was like to love watching, and supporting, England again. For a large part of the game Eriksson’s trademark long ball was absent (though it reared its ugly head in the later stages); it was great to see England play football to be proud of, and to see them test the best team in the World as well as withstand the bombardment in the other direction.

I nearly had a heart-attack when 69 minutes ticked over on the clock, and Eriksson called Michael Owen to the touchline. Sven never brings Owen off, and never, ever brings him off before withdrawing the other striker. Both star strikers were poor with respect to the expectations on them, Henry and Owen will not remember this game for their own performances. The reason I don’t like Owen, and the easiest way of understanding the difference between him and Henry as footballers, is to look at their respective contributions whilst they were having ‘poor games’. Owen hardly touched the ball in 69 minutes—literally; Henry dropped deep and looked for touches, he wanted posession, on at least two occasions he beat three or four players on his own, and worked David James on at least (as far as I can remember) two occasions. He also won the penalty that gave France all three points.

After the Owen decision, I thought that Sven would have to make up for it somehow; with a ridiculous, counter intuitive, plain stupid substitution or tactical rearrangement. Cue Emile. How anyone, anywhere, of any ability, with any level of football knowledge can decide that bringing off your biggest attacking threat—who’s young, fit and full of energy—and replacing him with the most genuinely inept footballer in the entire tournament (and I’m including Ivica Mornar in that), is a good idea I simply have no clue. Im beginning to think there’s some truth in Alastair McGowan’s Sven & Nancy sketches; perhaps Nancy went to the toilet or something, and the clueless Swede thought it’d be fun to bring on the Big Friendly Giant. At half time I was asked by a friend what I thought the final score would be, “1-0 to England,” I said “or 2-1 France”. Come 75 minutes I backtracked, and said “1-0 England, or 1-1, France won’t score two now”. Then on comes Emile, within 30 seconds of my rethink, and I immediately reverted to my half time prediction. I’m not kidding here either, I firmly believe that the big idiot is perfectly capable of cocking up a game all on his own, and so he did, with a little help from Steven Gerrard.

I don’t blame Beckham, I don’t blame Gerrard, I don’t even blame Heskey—he can’t help it if he’s rubbish. France are more professional, they can keep ‘it’ up for ninety minutes, they can bring on European Cup Winners and World Class players when England bring on kids and cart-horses, they have Zinedine Zidane. It’s a puzzling result, because an England win would have been harsh against a side who had more posession, created more chances, and were more adventurous; on the other hand, a France win doesn’t give the first eleven English players the points they deserved for their effort.

For what it’s worth (even though I hate this kind of thing), some ratings:

ENGLAND
James [6] Coped with crosses well, but should have been better positioned for Zidane’s free kick and was foolish to dive at Henry’s feet for the penalty.
A Cole [8] Despite early blips, coped with Pires well, and did everything asked of him in the lonely left hand side of the England team.
Campbell [8] Kept Trezeguet quiet, and did the same to Henry when he drifted his side; a couple of colossal headers in the dying moments.
King [8] Defied all expectations by playing magnificently, his partnership with Campbell kept two of the best forwards in the competition from getting a meaningful shot on goal.
Neville [7] Did everything he needed to and did it well, was never really tested as Zidane moved inside and Beckham kept track of Lizarazu.
Scholes [7] Some great touches, neat passing and turns brought some of his Manchester United form into the England side for the first time in a while. Should have gotten in the box more.
Lampard [8] A marvellous goal, and a fantastically energetic and tidy performace. Kept pace with Vieira for most of the match, but resorted to kicking out on too many occasions.
Gerrard [7] A fine performance at the heart of England’s midfield, a poor pass that left James in trouble for the penalty that won France the game, but it was not symptomatic of his performace.
Beckham [7] Wonderful passing, understated performance—not his normal ‘heartbeat of the team’ show—class written through his play like a stick of rock though, and it was an excellent penalty save (though I have a feeling Barthez was about a yard off his line when Beckham struck the ball).
Owen [5] Seriously, was he playing?
Rooney [9] England’s best attacking player by a street. Caused no end of problems for France, won a penalty with his only clear cut chance of the game (for which Silvestre should definitely have been sent off for), held the ball up well, good distribution—no one else in the squad like him.
Subs
Vassell [7] I can’t believe it’s the same player that looks so average for Villa every week. Excellent cameo, was unlucky not to score, genuinely think he and Rooney would be better than the Owen option.
Heskey [4] Worse than useless, if he simply hadn’t run on to the pitch but stayed on the sideline—making England play with 9 men—France would not have won.
Hargreaves [6] Only avoiding a 7 because he didn’t have time to do as much as he could have. Played will, tidy in posession and ran at the french defence.

FRANCE
Barthez [8] Excellent penalty save, and the fantasque Fabien was no where to be seen.
Gallas [8] A superb performance from the Chelsea defender, some magnificent challenges and a disciplined performance.
Silvestre [6] A poor show from the United centre-half, looked uncomfortable with Rooney and Scholes running at him, and for a fast player should have gotten miles closer to Rooney when he cynically brought him down for the penalty.
Thuram [7] Just about managed to keep Rooney at bay, though the Evertonian got the better of him once or twice. Worked hard and played an important part in the unit.
Lizarazu [7] Didn’t excel attacking, was troubled by Rooney and Beckham (bringing the latter down for the free kick that led to Lampard’s goal), but was steady enough to stop the flank getting overrun.
Pires [7] After a marvellous opening period out wide, Ashley Cole forced him to move infield where he linked up with Zidane and Vieira impressively. Involved in some nice moves and with a more dominating presence in the box could have provided a couple of assists. Tired early and replaced by Wiltord.
Vieira [9] The heartbeat, spent most of the game being fouled by Lampard, Scholes, Rooney and Gerrard, kept the ball moving at all times and covered all the ground he needed to. Allowed Zidane to break and supported the French attacks superbly. The french had the majority of the ball, and no player had more touches than Vieira.
Makelele [8] The unsung hero, worked tirelessly in front of the defence trying to keep Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard out of the game; popped up all over the pitch, seemed like an extra man for France at times.
Zidane [9] You simply can’t fault his nerve. Big time player, big time performance. Not all of his tricks and touches worked in open play, but held his nerve for the 90th minute penalty and scored a glorious free kick. Not the flurry of 360 pirouettes we saw four and six years ago, but quietly effective—a superb distirbuter of the ball.
Trezeguet [7] Largely anonymous, had a few touches and supported play well. Got up well for two or three crosses but couldn’t direct his headers.
Henry [8] Everyone expects him to score spectacular goals, beat multiple defenders and exhibit his array of tricks every minute of every game. It was a quiet day for Henry, but despite that he showed flashes of genius and his awareness and opportunism after playing 90 minutes of tiring football won France the match.
Subs
Wiltord [6] Ran a lot, tried hard, didn’t achieve much. As usual.
Sagnol [6] Did his job well and offered a bit more energy down the flank as Gallas tired.
Dacourt [6] Despite being on the pitch while his team scored two goals, he was only there about 2 minutes—barely got a touch.

So there you are.

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All Things Footie | Monday, June 7 | Jordan

Hangover

It’s been nearly a month since the Premiership season ended, and boy does it feel like it. The month after the season before. Two forgettable cup finals, I’ve missed the England warm-up games, but against all the odds I’m really looking forward to Euro 2004. There should be some really exciting teams competing, I fancy Spain, the Czech Republic, and perhaps even the perennial under achievers and hosts Portugal to do well. But again, against all the odds, I also fancy England.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the England management, the FA, and a number of the players regularly selected but rarely fit to wear the shirt, and for weeks I’ve been of the mind that England are going to get bombed unceremoniously out of the tournament (figuratively speaking). Over the last few days I’ve been giving it some more thought, and for the first time in a long while, I think England are capable of doing something special.

The weak links are becoming peripheral, Darius Vassell’s unlikley but impressive strike rate for his country should put him ahead of the lumbering cart-horse that is Emile Heskey, and I’m praying that Sven keeps his head and doesn’t resort to Nicky Butt. Yes, he did well in the World Cup two years ago, but at the expense of creativity, and only because the team played so cautiously; England played some hideously poor football in that tournament, and a more positive attitude would have seen them past Brazil with ease.

I look at England’s midfield and see four class players. Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham have all had good domestic seasons, they’re all fit, and they’re all excellent footballers. They may be four central midfielders, but they’re four very good central midfielders, and it rarely harms other teams (providing those players are able to follow instructions and put the team before personal goals).

Lampard in particular has impressed the hell out of me this season, I’m delighted to see him doing so well. I’ve always been a fan of Frank, but I’ve always thought he was going to peak just below the level that would make him good enough to be a solid International, or a key player in a top club team. I’m happy he’s proven me wrong, I’m happy that he’s done it through graft and application while developing the talent he has. I think he’ll be a key player in one of the best midfields in the competition.

I look at the England defence, and I see four solid players. Cole and Campbell have a great partnership going at Arsenal, and have a lot to give individually—tough competitors, talented players, and exceptional athletes. John Terry is naturally gifted as a centre half in the way Tony Adams was, he plays without thinking, and without worrying, because he can. Gary Neville is the least inspiring of the back line, but you can’t fault his ability to turn out decent performances; rarely spectacular, rarely ‘very good’ even, but always decent. I’d love to see Owen Hargreaves play in his position, two flying, ferocious, fit full-backs would make England twice the attacking force, but it’s a gamble I know Eriksson won’t take.

Up front, the exuberance of Rooney and the opportunism of Owen (combined with that ‘right-place-at-the-right-time’ instinct of Vassell) could be special. They could also fail spectacularly, but Rooney seems fired up, and Owen—despite being light years behind the most taleneted forwards in terms of ability—will always be a threat with his pace and willingness to strike at goal.

There’s spirit in the England camp too. While most squads—made up of players plying their trade in numerous countries, who never see each other apart from on International duty—struggle to adjust to the International midset, most England players get on, and would consider themselves friends. Many of them socialise outside of football related events, and there’s a camaradarie there usually associated with the smaller countries who’s spirit is all that gets them through big games.

Of course, there are still problems. There is still too much emphasis on direct football, the kind that one is forced to play when you have a midfield full of donkeys with no imagination—not four of the most able, fit and creative midfielders in Europe. There’s the goalkeeping situation; a good defence is always backed up by a goalkeeper that those defenders can trust, and the word ‘dodgy’ was practically invented for David James; despite his own boastings and appeals for leniency in the face of inconsistency. Paul Robinson is a fine goalkeeper, but I can’t help feel that he’s a quiet lad, one that doesn’t have a tight relationship with his teammates. Don’t even start me on Ian Walker.

As soon as the first XI is out of sight, with a few exceptions (Hargreaves, Vassell, Bridge) there’s not a lot to inspire confidence. Carragher is a liability in the strongest possible sense of the word, Butt has hardly played all year and doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm when he is fit and on form, Heskey is woefully short of being International class and Dyer’s England performances suggest he’d fail to turn a game if he was the only man on the pitch. Joe Cole is inconsistent but has the potential to do something special, and hopefully Ledley King and Phil Neville will remain on the furthermost fringes—they’d get laughed out of most country’s squads.

If the first team can remain fit (not just uninjured, but keeping the momentum of the last nine months going and not moaning about ‘tiredness’) and the midfield can click properly, I think England can do well. Winning the tournament is not beyond this team. Those are big ‘if’s, but for the first time in a while—maybe it’s because it no longer bothers me so much—I’m really looking forward to the England game this weekend. Here’s hoping for sunny weather, and a good game, whoever wins. Allez les Blancs.

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