Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Observations of England Friendly Against Czech Republic--First Half

• Well, I had it wrong earlier when I said Gareth Barry would be on the left and Steven Gerrard in the middle. The two were reversed to start, though Gerrard ended up drifting inside anyway. Ashley Cole and Wes Brown, the left and right backs, respectively, both needed to get forward and provide some necessary width to the team.

• David Beckham can still hit a dead or slow-moving ball pretty well. Big shock, huh? He's still England's best option on the right side.

• I’m getting tired of seeing Wayne Rooney listed as a striker for England. He comes back so far to collect the ball that’s he virtually a fifth midfielder, and when you only have Jermain Defoe (hardly a target man) up front and the firepower that’s already in England’s midfield, Rooney doesn’t need to drop so deep. It hurts the team more than it helps, though you have to like the hustle and work rate.

• Well-deserved yellow card for Barry – reckless tackle.

• Good awareness from Wes Brown to clear the ball after David James made the one-handed diving save after a quarter of an hour.

• Even though Gerrard rarely plays on the left, he looked great bursting forward out there today. He tested Petr Cech early after cutting in and ripping a low, hard drive, won a corner kick in the 35th minute after having his shot deflected out of bounds, passed it very well, and drew a couple fouls in good position for England. When he came back inside, though, he struggled a little bit to connect his passes.

• After Brown’s good play earlier, he was largely responsible for the Czech Republic’s first goal, scored by Milan Baros. As a defender, Brown made the huge mistake of diving in and letting the attacker walk it right around him there at the corner of the 18. The ball was then passed to Baros, who made no mistake. The goal itself went in off Ashley Cole, an unfortunate bounce because it appeared that James was going to make the save before the ball could sneak into the corner.

• As match commentator Robbie Earle wisely pointed out, the width of the Czech Republic put England at a big disadvantage because the Three Lions have little of it. When the full backs have to go that far forward, they leave holes in the back that can be exploited.

• Frank Lampard was fortunate to not receive a yellow card for his sliding challenge in the 28th minute. He caught all man first, ball second, and it wasn’t even close.

• England’s best stretch of the half came between the 25th-40th minutes, but Cech was up to the task. Better finishing from Rooney and Defoe, in particular, was needed to equalize.

• Great long throw from James to his Portsmouth teammate, Defoe, just before halftime. Defoe then won a foul. The free kick from that foul resulted in an England corner kick, which was headed in by Brown, whose first international goal makes up for his earlier mistake.

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