Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Super Eagles, Subdued Lions
Let's cut to the chase straight away - England were
very poor yesterday. Nigeria came into the game fielding
several teenagers and reserves, with nothing to lose
and little more to gain. Don't get me wrong here, I
thought Nigeria played an excellent game today, and
matched England all over the field, but when you have
lost two games and are out of the World Cup already,
what happens in the last match is of no consequence
really. Who remembers the team that only starts to
play once it has gone out?
No this game was all about England, and England did
not live up to expectations. I have written about
this all the way through England's campaign. When
England are not favourites, when they are not expected
to do well, they over perform, they impress. When the
opposite is true, and England are supposed to win,
things go wrong. Always. And today was no different.
Eriksson sent out the same team that had outplayed
Argentina for most of last Sunday's game, but he
forgot to send them out with the same gameplan.
Whereas against Argentina England hustled and harried
and played with pace, verve and determination, against
Nigeria the English played for the draw, and hardly
ever joined their attacks up. Butt was a revelation
against Argentina, commitment personified. Against
Nigeria he was out of sorts, firing off long-range
shots and looking less than convincing in midfield.
Beckham was much the same, his radar seriously off
target not only from free kicks, but also when
crossing the ball. This is supposed to be Beckham's
forte: to provide simple, dangerous balls. Instead we
got aimless attacking that was more often than not
stopped by the first defender. As I say, England were
Good points? Rio Ferdinand again looked assured and
comfortable on the ball. The English press is awash
with claims that he is on his way to Manchester United
for £35 million ($50 million) but even that failed to
distract him. Regardless of the fact that no defender
is surely worth that much money, Ferdinand has grown
up almost overnight. Before the tournament I wrote
that the English were likely to find most of their
problems in this area - look at what happened against
Korea and Cameroon - but now Campbell and Ferdinand
look as if they have been playing together for 10
years. It is primarily down to the good form of this
defence that England have found themselves comfortably
in the Second Round, but defence alone never wins
Luckily Michael Owen is still looking dangerous up
front, but creating one clear chance per game is not
really enough from the European Footballer of the
Year. Owen has not scored for England yet, while the
likes of Jon Dahl Tomasson and Miroslav Klose are
charging towards double figures. Owen still terrifies
every defender he confronts, but when is he going to
start banging the goals away? England qualified by
scoring only two goals. Sure it was the 'Group of
Death' and Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria were all good
teams, but England need to start performing in front
of goal soon. Even today, there were a hatful of
chances just begging to be put away. England are
creative, it may not be all that nice to watch, but it
is effective, and it is always going to give goal
chances. It is time for the Liverpool man to finish
But England are still more likely to win games in
midfield, and as Butt and Beckham were off target
today, England could not win. That they were in with
a chance points to the continuing good form of Paul
Scholes, who could have easily scored when he hit the
post with a sweet volley in the first half. Scholes
though can only perform well when those around him
free him up, and with Stevie Gerrard missing, that job
falls to Butt and Beckham. Again today's game proved
that when those two are off form, Scholes' impact on
the game will be limited. It is a credit to him then
that it was hardly noticeable.
In the end though, it makes little difference, as
England set out with a gameplan to get a draw and duly
managed it. From now on a draw is never enough, as
that brings the tension of the Golden Goal and the
lottery of penalties. Will Eriksson send his team out
against Denmark looking for a win, as he did against
Argentina? He simply has to.
Denmark have been strong competitors so far, and
comfortably outdid the French to secure top spot in
Group A. There is no way on earth that Denmark are a
better team than France (or England for that matter)
but if they keep on winning that hardly counts. The
team contains a fair smattering of decent players -
Sorenson, Helveg, Gronkjaer, Tomasson, Sand - and the
rest join in to make a competitive team. More
importantly they are full of confidence at the minute
having eliminated France. What cannot be disguised
though is apart from beating France at more or less a
canter, Denmark hardly blew Uruguay and Senegal away.
Uruguay were unlucky not to find an equaliser, and
Senegal were unlucky not to grab a winner. But you
could of course say exactly the same thing about
Denmark - they have been steady, not spectacular, and
except for the game against France they have not
looked like the best team on the park. But then
excepting England's performance against Argentina, I
could be writing exactly the same thing about Sven's
Though this is true, few in England will expect
England to lose to Denmark - myself included. Why?
Well Denmark for all their current confidence and
qualifying form lost badly in Dublin against Ireland,
and England are a better team than Ireland. Second,
lots of the Danes ply their trade in Britain, but this
is not at Arsenal or Manchester United but Bolton and
Charlton. There was a similar situation to this
against Sweden, but the two stars in that team are
both Champions League regulars (at Arsenal and Celtic)
- Stig Tofting, Thomas Gravesen and Claus Jensen will
hardly seem daunting to English players comfortably
playing domestically one level above at least. And
don't forget that Jon Dahl Tomasson was so poor when
at Newcastle that his name became a byword for a
player lacking talent. I don't care in Milan, Real or
Kaiser Chiefs want to buy him - players do not change
that much, and with Ferdinand and Campbell playing
well there should be little luck for the Feijenoord
Yet I would be stupid to write off a team that has -
after all - just eliminated the World Champions.
Denmark could easily repeat their success if England
allow them, and if England play the way they did
against Sweden or Nigeria then they are just asking
for trouble. Now if they go out and attack, pressing
in midfield and confident in defence, then England
should be OK. I just hope they do not get too over
confident. England have to be fearful, be the
underdog. It would have been better to play Brazil
now, you think...
So the Group of Death is over for another World Cup.
Argentina are out - who would have thought that! - and
Nigeria have restored some pride with a combative
final performance. Both England and Sweden must now
fancy a quarter final place, and if that comes off, a
possible rematch in the semi final. England will
never, ever have a better chance to win a second World
Cup, and with this competition so open and full of
surprises, who can predict anything anymore?
England's probable quarter final against Brazil will
go a long way to give us more evidence - England will
have another test against a world superpower and
Brazil will at last have met one. It is going to be a
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