Lee Dixon: James should start but that's not the only lesson Capello needs to learn
World Cup Dossier: Consoling David Seaman after Nayim's lob from the halfway line in the Cup-winners' Cup final in 1995 proved impossible
Monday 14 June 2010
Robert Green will still be feeling terrible this morning. Awful. But it would be too simple to put everything down to that one terrible mistake. Though overall it was a not a bad performance by England, I came away with a feeling of disappointment – it was a game we should have won against a hard-working but average US side.
Only Steven Gerrard stood out for England, though Glen Johnson was alright going forward. We looked shaky at times defensively and I'm still not convinced about that central midfield: Gerrard was good but Frank Lampard was too quiet. Out wide, Aaron Lennon had a lot of ball but his final delivery was poor. On the left, Ashley Cole was subdued. And as for Emile Heskey I'm afraid it was the same old story: he may have held the ball up well and won headers, but strikers should be judged on whether they can score. He was presented with the best chance of the game to score the winner, but he couldn't take it.
Capello is left now with some tough decisions, and he has to make better ones than on Saturday. Is it harsh to judge Capello negatively? Well, his gamble with James Milner's fitness did not pay off. Whatever the talk of subbing him because of the yellow card, it was obvious from the first minute that Milner was not match fit. As I watched with the commentary staff, we all said it looked like he was breathing hard. Maybe Milner did all the things right in the tests but, once it came to the warm-up he must have known he wasn't right. People might say he should have held his hand up and been open about his condition, but a player will naturally hope you they can get through it, given the circumstances. I've had matches when I felt perfect, then when the game starts I've realised I'm not quite there. Then there are others when you feel less than on your game until you start, the adrenalin kicks in and it all goes fine. Being the type of lad he is, Milner would have tried to get through it. But it is up to the manager to intervene, so to be fair to Capello, at least he stepped in and brought him off.
It will be another departure from the game that will present the trickier problem. When Ledley King went off, it left us short of pace in central defence. Looking at the way Jamie Carragher was left for dead by Jozy Altidore, the centre of the back line has to be a worry, and depending on King's recovery, it may be a problem against better teams. But Jamie has played enough in that position to cope with Algeria and Slovenia – he can compensate with his ability to read the game, and should know when to drop off.
But the overarching observation has to be about keeping the ball. England failed to dominate possession as much as they could have. Why? Well, I wouldn't play 4-4-2 – it's predictable and we need more numbers in midfield. And do we need the big man up front? Heskey wins headers but aside from that early flash of promise when he set up the Gerrard goal, the question was often: who's he flicking them on to? Wayne Rooney was quiet. He seems to prefer playing on his own upfield.
And from the performance up front to the performance of the goalkeeper. Green will be devastated and there's nothing anyone can do or say. I have never met a keeper who has not made a mistake like that, and I'm sure he will come back, but whether he will get the chance to do so in this tournament I don't know. I know this sounds like being wise after the event, but I wrote in this column on Saturday that I would have picked David James, and I think Capello will do so now for the next game. It's difficult for anyone without any direct knowledge of how those balls move, and who wasn't right in line, to comment but given the pace the ball was hit at, and the fact it was along the ground, you have to say it was a basic error. I would have actually taken him off at half-time.
It was such a howler you think 'how can he get through the second half, we can't afford him to make another error'. But to be fair to him got through the game and made a very good save. He also came out an did an interview afterwards. While not necessarily agreeing with what he said he should be given huge amount of credit for that. A lot of players would have hidden.
Is it harsh to drop him? Maybe, but it still may have to be done. I have first-hand experience of being with a goalkeeper after something like that has happened. I didn't play in Shizuoka when David Seaman was beaten by Ronaldinho, but I remember trying to console him in Paris after Nayim scored from the halfway line. It was very difficult. We flew back that night. Dave was my room-mate and I was next to him. I was trying to say all the right things, 'no-one blames you', 'forget about it'. It didn't make any difference. Then it got worse.
The executive supporters and press were on the plane with the Arsenal players. We had got on first and we sat at the front. The press came on, walking through us, none of them knowing quite what to say or where to look.
Then came the fans. To a man they said things like 'It's alright Dave, it's not your fault'. I could feel him shaking, he was so upset and this was just making it worse. It got to fan number 30, then 40. I thought, 'there's more than a hundred on the flight, I have to do something to stop this'. So I stood up and said loudly, 'well if it wasn't his fault, whose fault was it?'' Everyone started laughing. That broke the mood. After that we had a few beers and just talked about fishing and stuff, anything but the game.
The one consolation – for Green and, for Capello and for England – is that England did not lose the game. There may be areas for improvement, but England should still get out of the group. But they will have to learn their lessons if they are to live up to their potential.
Squad divisions are giving Domenech the blues
I was enormously disappointed with France the other night. They looked awful. I was waiting for them to start playing their game but they looked like a team of individuals. Nicolas Anelka looked disinterested and how Sidney Govou stayed on the pitch for as long as he did with Thierry Henry and Florent Malouda on the bench was beyond me. In defence, William Gallas didn't make a tackle all night and, at times, he and Eric Abidal didn't look as if they were on the same pitch, one dropping off, the other getting tight.
There is a real chance of France not qualifying from the group. They have talented individuals but you can't just expect to turn it on. They look an unhappy team and I know from experience when a team does not look right from the outside it generally is not right. Player unrest is normally the reason. Towards the end of George Graham's time at Arsenal he'd lost the dressing room and France are in a similar situation with Raymond Domenech. He is leaving after the Finals and it is obvious the players don't back him. There are players who clearly think they should be playing who are on the bench, and some who don't think Yoann Gourcuff should be in the team. There were times against Uruguay when he was in good positions and did not get the ball. I'm not saying people refused to pass to him but the dynamic of the team did not look right.
Maradona is all smiles now but tougher tests await
I had a few managers in my career but no one like Maradona. It must be quite an experience for the players. It is certainly entertaining for us watching. In his celebrations after the game he hugged and kissed every player. His relief showed how important it is to start with a win, but it also showed there is huge respect between him and his players. However, I wonder if he will be able to respond when managerial intervention is needed. They qualified poorly and he has made mad selections in the past. There is a lot of talent in the team and when things start going wrong in a match players can usually sort it out. You see problems developing first on the pitch as you start feeling exposed. Between you, you can normally solve the problem, maybe by getting someone to drop a bit deeper, or tuck in, or hold. But there are times when you look to the bench and I'm not sure whether Maradona can organise them in that situation.
Argentina's forward thinking can't hide the weak link Argentina were mesmerising up front on Saturday. The triangle of Gonzalo Higuaín, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi was fantastic. They have a huge amount of weaponry but they're not so secure in defence. It will be interesting see them the later stages; for me you can't win a World Cup with Jonás Gutiérrez at right back.
Steven Pienaar can lead the hosts into the next phase
The crowds for the Confederations Cup here last year were not great but even then you felt the weight of the nation pushing the South African team. That is even more evident now and they made a solid start. There are some issues to sort out, especially defending set pieces, but they have great team spirit and some decent players, especially Steven Pienaar. who is integral. Group A is wide open and they have a chance of progressing. The competition needs the host nation to do well.
Local support making the Finals memorable
It has been a hugely enjoyable atmosphere. The South African people have thrown themselves into the tournament. We had all hoped that it would be like this but you never know until it starts.
Difficult opener for the defending champions
I'm really intrigued to see how the reigning champions, Italy, will begin their defence against a tricky Paraguay side this evening. It is extremely hard to win back-to-back crowns, with Brazil the last team to achieve it in 1962.
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