United States 1-1 England
The United States earned a fortunate draw against an underwhelming England in the opening game of Group C. The major talking point will inevitably be the crucial mistake by Robert Green. Green, currently of West Ham United, spilled Clint Dempsey’s tame effort into the net against the run of play. The mishap by Green will not be easy viewing for any football fan and, undoubtedly, will live long in the memory. Many observers in the British press were quick to scorn the goalkeeper while others chose to focus on coach Fabio Capello’s insistence on withholding the identity of England’s starting goalkeeper for so long. Regardless, even had Green not mishandled Dempsey’s speculative effort, a draw was perhaps a fair result and not disastrous to the ambitions of either side. It is certain that autopsies will run in the British press until Capello’s side entertain the possibility of redemption against Algeria on June 18th.
It had all started so well for England. England’s new captain Steven Gerrard opening the scoring with a neat finish after the midfielder had exchanged passes with Emile Heskey.
England soon withdrew into a false sense of security and a resurgent United States nearly forced an equaliser when Landon Donovan’s searching cross was nearly met by Jozy Altidore.
THE moment arrived five minutes before the interval. Clint Dempsey, in a relatively unthreatening position was drawn into shooting early by his markers and unleashed what looked to be a forlorn effort goalwards. However, in a moment of weakness from Robert Green, the ball ended up nestled in the back of the net. The Fulham midfielder could hardly believe his luck as he pointed skyward thankfully.
The second half exhibited another forgettable display by Capello’s side. Their consternation evident as possession was needlessly given away as long shunts upfield from Terry and Carragher were returned easily by the American defence. For a player who had just recovered from a nine month absence through injury, Oguchi Onyewu was terrific. His physicality overwhelmed Wayne Rooney, who was unusually ineffective. The AC Milan defender should take pride in his display of aggressive defending as his compatriots and he suffocated every English venture towards Tim Howard’s goal.
Howard himself was in fine form. The Everton goalkeeper had progressed into one of the Premier League’s most reliable shot-stoppers this past season and reproduced his performance levels here despite sustaining an injury to his right shoulder.
His counterpart Robert Green went some way towards redeeming himself when he pushed Jozy Altidore’s effort on to the post. The ineffectuality of the re-called Jamie Carragher will be yet another matter of concern for Fabio Capello on an evening where much of what he thought to be secure was exposed by a robust United States.
For England, the match against Algeria cannot come soon enough. It is almost guaranteed that Capello will make changes to his starting eleven, perhaps starting with his goalkeeper. It has been said that Joe Hart’s performances at training have been far superior to those of his colleagues but his glaring lack of experience has been decisive in keeping him from a place in goal to date. Should Capello continue to hold Hart’s inexperience against him, the only other option is David James, himself no stranger to goalkeeping errors.
Whoever starts in goal for England against Algeria will require better protection than that which was afforded to Robert Green tonight. The withdrawal of Ledley King at half-time saw the introduction of Jamie Carragher. Carragher’s subsequent display will have done little to allay the fears of the English public who have seen him deteriorate from one of the Premier League’s outstanding centre-halves into a bumbling, slouching shadow of his former self. His partner in defence, John Terry, was equally poor. The wayward long passing from the former captain indicative of a player who, like Carragher, has undergone a rapid reversal in his fortunes on the field in recent times.
The result in Rustenberg must serve as a wake-up call for this England squad if they are to pose any threat to sides in the latter stages. The criticism often levelled at England is that they are one-dimensional. Tonight seemed to be a damning confirmation of that notion. Nevertheless, England will look to rebound against an unfancied Algeria side in Cape Town on June 18th.