Keegan admits he couldn't put wrongs right

Alex Hayes looks back at the key mistakes that led to the downfall
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The Independent Online

England's woeful defeat against Germany yesterday could be dubbed the day of the S. That is, S for Southgate's selection, S for soaked, S for sad and, ultimately, S for so long, as Kevin Keegan decided to call an end to his 18-month tenure on the day Wembley closed its doors for the last time. All the talk will centre around the England coach's departure but, once the dust has settled, focus instead on Germany's performance and the winning S, that of Mehmet Scholl.

England's woeful defeat against Germany yesterday could be dubbed the day of the S. That is, S for Southgate's selection, S for soaked, S for sad and, ultimately, S for so long, as Kevin Keegan decided to call an end to his 18-month tenure on the day Wembley closed its doors for the last time. All the talk will centre around the England coach's departure but, once the dust has settled, focus instead on Germany's performance and the winning S, that of Mehmet Scholl.

England's S, Paul Scholes, was supposed to be the danger man, floating as he does so effectively behind one or two strikers. Instead, the Manchester United player spent the majority of the match desperately trying to plug the gaps in midfield and defence, while his Bayern Munich counterpart, Scholl, enjoyed the freedom of Wembley.

In many ways, Scholes' problems symbolised the malaise throughout the team. The centre-back partnership of Tony Adams and Martin Keown was solid, and Graeme Le Saux offered much-needed balance on the left side of defence, but the rest of the team looked uncomfortable. For long periods, the Germans were able to stroke the ball around without a care. To many, this was Euro 2000 revisited. In particular, the Portugal match when England chased their tails for 75 minutes.

Keegan admitted after the game that he "sat out there first half and could see things weren't right, but couldn't find it in myself to solve the problems". Critics have always maintained that the former Newcastle and Fulham manager lacked tactical nous. Now, Keegan himself has accepted his shortcomings.

Yesterday's performance was littered with mistakes, as players seemed unsure as to what their roles were. Southgate has not played as a sweeper-cum-holding midfielder since his days at Crystal Palace in the early '90s. "I was determined to try to do the job," Southgate said after the match. "We needed somebody to play a holding role after Steven Gerrard's injury and, although Paul Ince and Dennis Wise would have come into the reckoning, the manager asked me to play a specific role. But I don't think that's the only reason we got beat."

Nick Barmby, though he has shown a willingness to adapt, is not a natural left-footer. If he was, the Liverpool midfielder would have shot at goal, rather than hit a hopeful cross, when he found himself in space late in the the game. Such was Germany's control, particularly in midfield, that the likes of Scholl and Dietmar Hamann were able to concentrate solely on going forward.

Conversely, Scholes was restricted almost entirely to defensive duties. Only once, four minutes into the match, did he make any telling impact. Collecting the ball on the edge of the Germany penalty box, he twisted and turned before delivering a weak cross.

That was that. Scholes spent the rest of the first half having to patrol in front of his own area. Defence has never been his strongest point and it showed again. It was his foul on Michael Ballack which led to Hamann's rocket of a free-kick and Germany's goal. Scholes cannot be blamed for failing to fulfill a task he is not suited to, but the more the first half wore on, the worse his performance became.

Not so Scholl. From his first touch of the game - when he brought down a high ball with an exquisite touch before laying it off to Sebastian Deisler, whose cross-cum-shot drifted harmlessly wide - to his last, Scholl was a constant threat to England. His clever positional play and tireless runs caused the England rear-guard problems. More than anything else, however, it is his ability to pop up in different places every few minutes, which makes him most dangerous. And he's not bad from set-pieces, either. Following another clumsy challenge from Scholes on Ballack after 32 minutes, Scholl's free-kick was on target and well-directed, it lacked only pace and fell invitingly into Seaman's hands.

The second half brought a better performance, due to the fact that Keegan had belatedly decided to switch to a more suitable 3-5-2 formation. "We certainly looked more comfortable playing that way," Southgate said. As a result, Scholes and David Beckham had a greater influence while Kieron Dyer looked more dangerous down the right flank.

But it was too little too late. Keegan had made one last throw of the dice, but his demeanour, when he emerged from the tunnel after half-time, suggested he was in fact as lost as his players.

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