Captain puts in familiar hard shift
Pitched into an anchor role again, this time alongside Lampard, Gerrard pounced on his opportunity when let loose
Sunday 13 June 2010
The anthem that was belting out into the Rustenburg night sky as Steven Gerrard led out his England side goes by the name of Shosholoza. The word has no meaning in any African language because it was sung in the hybrid tongue created by the immigrant workers of many nations on the trains that took them far from home into the platinum mines which have given Rustenburg its wealth – and, indirectly, its place at this World Cup.
That language – fanakolo – certainly won't mean much to Gerrard but the song was fitting for him last night because he was the one assigned a work shift far from home. Not quite the "graveyard" shift, isolated down the left which he came to dread at Anfield but mining the ball in deep midfield and distributing for others to enjoy the liberty that is deprived him by so many managers who penalise his versatility.
History repeated itself for Gerrard in many ways last night. The World Cup finals routine generally involves a journey into the seclusion of the hills, a week or so gazing out over a majestic landscape and telling himself it must go well, then a meeting with his manager who breaks the reverie and tells him he'll be anchoring midfield with Frank Lampard.
In 2006, the hilltop eerie was the Buhlerhohe hotel, the views were down the Rhine valley and it was Sven Goran Eriksson telling him, as Gerrard later recalled it: "You're a little bit more defensive than Frank so don't go up so much as him. Be more cautious." Gerrard was as frustrated back then, before England's opening game against Paraguay in Frankfurt, as he probably was last night when he found himself anchoring things again. He admitted soon after the despair of England's elimination at Gelsenkirchen four years ago that his private thoughts had been: "Just let me loose, like Liverpool do" but he accepted his medicine then, much as he did last night.
Capello, who had never played the two together in the centre before last night, believes either man can advance and leave the other, and they certainly rotated the strike with remarkably little need for communication. The occasional hand gesture perhaps – generally from Gerrard, to indicate that he would resume his position on the left side of the anchor – but minimal eye contact; the combination worked by a form of osmosis.
Gerrard's goal is one he would have visualised in the past few weeks – at Buhlerhohe he walked around his hotel room before the Paraguay fixture telling himself: "First World Cup game, make sure it goes well." But his contribution to it went far beyond the cool and effortless flick over the keeper that threw into such contrast his last effort on goal in a finals; the nervous penalty he missed in Gelsenchirken as Portugal vanquished England. Gerrard's surreptitious advance towards the USA box allowed him to spot the opportunity to feed Emile Heskey from a Glen Johnson throw-in. He pointed out that option to Johnson, then advanced to take the ball Heskey played in.
Gerrard's contribution was comfortably the more complete of the two anchors. There was a 15-yard sprint before he launched himself into a challenge that prevented Robbie Findley, who has some pace, crossing the ball that Carlos Bocanegra sent into the right channel. It was generally captaincy the Gerrard way: minimal noise. Lampard periodically provided some fine distribution but there were few genuine signs of the player who has just completed his finest season for Chelsea. The first took 63 minutes to arrive, when Lampard cut inside a challenge 25 yards out, ran into the area and hit a left-foot shot that Tim Howard pushed over.
By then, he and Gerrard had found some unwelcome company. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the only players who could seriously hurt England, had both drifted inside from the flanks to grease the cogs and provide some badly needed movement through the centre. No pacing a hotel room can prepare a man for the instant that we hope will not be Robert Green's Scott Carson moment but Gerrard was at fault. He allowed Dempsey to turn him and then allowed him perhaps half a yard too much space.
There was another unwelcome echo of Paraguay when Gerrard was booked for a high tackle on Dempsey. His 2006 booking led Eriksson to bench him against Sweden in the third group match, in which England laboured, Gerrard was sent on and scored.
Gerrard left the field head bowed last night and though the opportunities his side created must militate against a rush to condemn the side, the result makes the onward journey more difficult. It's World Cup time and Gerrard knows there are many more industrial shifts ahead.
Man for man: England
Rob Green 5/10 Gained Fabio Capello's confidence enough to start ahead of David James only for horror spill to open up the debate all over again. Redeemed himself in second half.
Glen Johnson 6/10 Got forward at every opportunity, but struggled at times defensively when faced with the incisive US passing.
John Terry 6/10 Deposed captain was as courageous as ever in the face of American attacks but slow to react at times.
Ledley King 6/10 Slotted in seamlessly, filling in for Rio Ferdinand, in a composed display before succumbing to familiar injury problems at the break.
Ashley Cole 5/10 Relatively quiet showing but linked up well with substitute Wright-Phillips for one speculative shot from outside the area.
Aaron Lennon 5/10 After a week of guessing games, the winger beat Wright-Phillips to the right wing slot. Pace presented a danger but was often unsure as to the best option when attacking.
Frank Lampard 6/10 Unable to influence the game as he would have hoped as England's midfield struggled at times to stand up to their buoyant counterparts.
Steven Gerrard 7/10 Freed from the shackles of his club situation, the Liverpool man led from the front with his well taken opener and was always inventive. Booked.
James Milner 4/10 Versatile midfielder was a surprise choice ahead of Joe Cole after struggling with a virus all week. Taken off on the half hour. Booked.
Emile Heskey 7/10 Picked ahead of Crouch and did not take long to show why with a fine reverse pass for Gerrard's opener. Hefty presence troubled the US but wasted a second-half chance.
Wayne Rooney 6/10 Quietly industrious but early impact was limited. Unable to keep header down after the break before going close from long range.
Shaun Wright-Phillips (for Milner, 31) Lively display after unexpectedly early introduction. Twice went close with shots 6/10. Jamie Carragher (for King, 46) Unfussy as ever. Booked 6/10. Peter Crouch (for Heskey, 79) Replaced a tired Heskey as England searched for late winner.
Man for man: United States
Tim Howard 6/10 Well known to English fans after seven seasons in the Premier League. Left exposed for Gerrard's goal early on and stayed down after blocking effort from Heskey.
Steve Cherundolo 7/10 Only member of defence without experience of the English game. Got forward well throughout and linked up well with Donovan. Booked.
Jay Demerit 6/10 Emerged with no small amount of credit from his tussles with Rooney. Caught Heskey in face. Booked.
Oguchi Onyewu 6/10 The one-time Newcastle centre-back twice went close with headers and stood up well to the sporadic England attacks.
Carlos Bocanegra 5/10 Versatile former Fulham full-back put in a steady display but was presented with more problems after Wright-Phillips came on.
Clint Dempsey 6/10 Continued his fine club form but would never have expected his speculative long ranger before the break to trouble Green as much as it did.
Michael Bradley 6/10 The son of manager Bob was composed in possession without ever making any serious impact. Provided valuable defensive cover as England looked to turn the screw.
Ricardo Clark 6/10 Twenty-seven year old did not look out of place against illustrious opponents but again made little lasting impression in the opposing half.
Landon Donovan 8/10 Won hearts of Goodison faithful in his two-month loan spell earlier this year and was always a danger to England, dictating play from the right flank.
Robbie Findley 5/10 Hustled and bustled and held up the ball well as the Americans grew in confidence as the game went on. Replaced by Buddle. Booked.
Jozy Altidore 7/10 How Hull fans could have done with more displays like this from their loan striker. Used size well but wasted two clear headers. Saw shot pushed on to post by Green on the hour.
Edson Buddle (for Findley, 77) Unlucky not to start after his two goals against Australia last week. Unable to make much of an impact. Stuart Holden (for Altidore, 86) Cameo appearance for the Bolton midfielder.
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