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Saturday, June 19, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Draw with USA gives England fans cause for concern


LONDON — The nation is nervous.

Christopher Davies

Traditional arrogance has been replaced by uncertainty as England prepares to play Algeria on Friday in a game it dare not lose or even draw. England is not walking through the group stage as anticipated.

Fabio Capello enjoyed an almost criticism-free ride as England secured its place in South Africa with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

We trusted in Don Fabio, but the 1-1 draw against the United States, which felt like a defeat, has changed the view and perspective of the Italian. Maybe he is fallible after all, but the media honeymoon is certainly over, not that the Italian will be bothered one iota.

Among more easy to prove charges are arrogance after his declaration that he "absolutely made no mistakes" for his part against the USA. So selecting James Milner, who had missed three days of training with a virus and, clearly not up with the pace, was substituted after 30 minutes wasn't an error?

By taking off Milner most saw it as an admission that Capello had been wrong in picking him.

Or taking Ledley King, a magnificent defender when he plays between constant injury problems, to the finals wasn't a risk?

King was substituted at halftime and is unlikely to play again during the tournament.

Rio Ferdinand, who pulled out of the squad before the finals, and King both have a poor record of injuries over the past year and were always likely to pose a potential risk. Their subsequent absence is hardly a major surprise.

Most of all, Capello's obsession bordering on paranoia, of not announcing his team until the last moment has proved flawed.

How can World Cup preparations be called meticulous when the players didn't know who was playing against the USA until two hours before kickoff?

Capello probably has a soundproof hotel room in case he talks in his sleep.

This guy doesn't so much keep his cards close to his chest as super-glued to it.

Apparently, once during his career as a club manager, he announced his team the day before the game and one player was ill. Capello had problems getting the replacement in the right frame of mind, so never again has he risked this.

He makes it sound like overnight illnesses are a regular occurrence and isn't such a scenario part of a coach's man-management?

I fail to see how a team can be properly prepared when the 11 starting players know only at the 11th hour who is playing.

How can set-pieces and defensive organization be honed in training if the back-four who will be playing aren't together in practice?

It is difficult to see the advantage it would have given USA coach Bob Bradley to know Capello's team — and vice versa — the day before the match.

At most, only two or three places are in doubt, anyway. Enough DVDs of the opposition have been studied and, as all of the world's top players are with Champions League clubs, there are no secrets these days.

Bradley and Capello have 60 minutes to make any fine-tuning adjustments after the team sheets are handed in, enough for a top-class coach to get his message through.

Would it not send out a message of intent and confidence to say, 24 hours before the game, "Here's my team . . . now beat it?"

Players will tell you, in England's case privately, it helps their preparation to know if they are playing when they go to bed the previous night.

Goalkeepers, who play in the most specialized and isolated position, say they prefer 48 hours to be sharp mentally.

England was the only country going into the World Cup where no one had a clue who the starting goalkeeper would be.

Capello said he had known for weeks who it would be, but his late, late revelation that it would be Robert Green suggests otherwise.

Despite his horrendous error, Green should play against Algeria.

Strikers who miss an open goal aren't dropped, so why a goalkeeper?

If Capello chooses David James or Joe Hart instead, and they make a similar blooper, the goal-keeping position becomes a revolving door.

If Capello felt Green was his No. 1 a week ago that should still be the case, but of course the world will not know until the last moment.

The player England misses most of all is Owen Hargreaves, a specialized midfield anchor man whose presence would be all the more valuable in South Africa to protect a shaky center of defense.

Gareth Barry will return to fill that role Friday and Emile Heskey may be sacrificed for Jermain Defoe.

Don Fabio will stick to his increasingly criticized habit of revealing the team to his players two hours before kickoff.

For England to top its group it will probably have to do better than the United States against Algeria and Slovenia.

* * * * *

I BLAME Jose Mourinho for the mediocre start to the World Cup.

Or maybe I should give him credit for the pragmatic, effective way many of the teams in South Africa are playing.

Mourinho is the master of winning without the ball.

Inter Milan won the Champions League without ever having more than 45 percent of possession in any match. He had some of the finest players in the world, but others are following the Mourinho blueprint and have found it works for them, too.

While the excitement level has been low, in many ways it has been a coaching master class to see the big guns frustrated by lesser lights.

Keep two blocks of four playing disciplined no-risk football, and with the fitness levels these days, substance can succeed over style.

It may not be pretty, but the display by Switzerland as it beat Spain 1-0 with 33 percent of possession was pure Mourinho.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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