Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Russia-2, England-1...Is Anyone Really Surprised?

England's hopes for Euro 2008 qualification were dealt a critical blow today as the host Russians came from behind to take full points in what was a must-win game for them at home. Wayne Rooney's volley put England up 1-0 in the 29th minute but two goals in four minutes from substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko gave Russia the 2-1 victory at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

No matter what England does in their final group match (at home against probable Group E winner Croatia), Russia can qualify for Euro 2008 simply by winning their next two games, at Israel on November 17 and at Andorra four days later. However, an English win over Croatia coupled with a Russian draw or loss at Israel would ensure the Three Lions a trip to Austria/Switzerland next summer.

Russia certainly had the home-field advantage in this game (and they'll sorely miss it in those next two critical away matches) with the artificial surface and hostile crowd, but we all know that individually speaking, England has better, more talented players by far and a true world power would've handled their business and picked up a tough road victory. Here's the difference-maker: England's manager is Steve McLaren; Russia is led by Guus Hiddink. Anyone who's followed international soccer in recent years knows that Hiddink is an extremely capable, skilled manager with a penchant for having success with teams not normally associated with achieving much on the world stage.

In 1998, Hiddink led his homeland Dutch national team to the semifinals of the World Cup, a squad full of individuals who didn't play as a team before Hiddink took over in '95, constantly racked by disagreements and arguments among the players. Four years later, Hiddink took host nation South Korea to the semifinals as well before they bowed out to Germany. South Korea certainly were boosted by the fact that they had the crowd support wherever they played, but there's no getting around advancing further than some of the more traditional powers with a much larger talent base from which to choose. In 2006, Hiddink took Australia to the Round of 16, where they lost to eventual champions Italy 1-0 (though Italy won the game on a 90th minute PK by Francesco Totti, and the penalty decision by Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo was dubious, at best).

In short, this was a game won on tactical decisions made by Hiddink and lost by the ineptitude of English manager Steve McLaren, who probably should be reminded that Joleon Lescott is a good CENTER back, not a left back, not when Nicky Shorey and Phil Neville are available. Guus Hiddink opted to bring on another striker, Pavlyuchenko, and was rewarded when he scored twice. Though Wayne Rooney scored today, he and Michael Owen simply don't make for a good combination up top. What's worse is that Peter Crouch was the only striker on the substitutes' bench. Peter Crouch can't even get a game at Liverpool, a club team; how do you expect him to make a contribution for England when he hasn't been playing recently?

England could, and perhaps will, still qualify for Euro 2008 in spite of all this. They certainly don't deserve to and Steve McLaren certainly shouldn't be their manager if they do qualify. This upcoming Russia-Israel game will be a tricky one for Russia, but they have the added advantage in that they're playing to qualify and Israel have already been eliminated; they have nothing to play for other than pride. It'll be a long month for English fans and players, and make sure to mark November 17 on your calendar.

Game highlights can be found at

1 comment:

Natz said...

I wouldn't say i was surprised, its typical England, but i did feel bad they were the better team.
Now their fate is not in their hands.