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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Tears From Denmark
It rained hard in Niigata, not just raindrops but
goals as well. As the rain fell - just like Danish
tears said Trevor Brooking on the BBC - England
clicked against a hardworking, but limited, Danish
side, and ran out very comfortable winners. What does
it tell us about England? When they press, control
their passing and keep on going into the second half,
they look a very capable team. This is what we saw
against Germany last September, Argentina last week,
and Denmark today.
But when they trundle along in second gear, giving
away possession in a succession of long balls and
half-hearted defending - like Greece last October and
Sweden thirteen days ago - England look anything but
potential champions. But which England are we going to
see in the rest of the championship? The winning side
so full of confidence and ability, or the lucky,
confused team? I'll be brave and go for the first one
- probably very stupidly...
Today we saw what is the true face of this English
team - a fast, tight, pressing team, full of
confidence and goalscoring potential. Owen, Beckham,
Scholes, Ferdinand and Seaman are undoubted
world-class players, capable of playing in every team
at this championship. The defence has hardly looked
troubled since the opening match against Sweden, and
even then it was after a first half when Campbell and
Ferdinand looked as imposing as they have in the rest
of the matches. When this team clicks, they are
Denmark were scared in the first 25 minutes, and it
showed. Laursen was noticeably edgy, terrified of the
pace of Owen and Heskey and gave away a needless
corner after just five minutes. Beckham smacked in a
testing ball and Ferdinand sent back a similar header.
Now, nine times out of ten, Thomas Sorenson in the
Danish goal would have either gathered the original
ball, or would have beaten this header back out.
Today attacked by nervous tension he fumbled it into
his own net - what chance that?
England did not allow Denmark to get over these nerves
and once Michael Owen - European Footballer of the
Year after all - had scored a second, the game was
over. Heskey's imperious drive to score the third
seconds before the end of the first half just
underlined it. Regardless of minor injuries to Owen
and Scholes, England took nothing but positives out of
this game. Denmark had eliminated France with ease
just four days before - now they looked like lower
league players. They are not; they are a good, solid
European team with competent performers. England made
them look bad.
But of course we have to keep perspective. England
slackened off in the second half not just because they
had a three-nil lead. England have an excellent first
team, but they do not have an excellent squad. I am a
Robbie Fowler fan, he was (and always will be) God to
all Liverpool fans, but he is not as good a player as
Michael Owen, and certainly does not offer the same
type of threat or penetration. Denmark looked an
awful lot more comfortable playing against Fowler than
they did against Owen. Owen offers massive amounts of
pace and gives England options no once else can.
Hendriksen and Laursen had no answers to his speed -
or that of Emile Heskey. Beckham, Butt, Scholes and
Sinclair look to drop simple, but deadly, balls in
behind the defenders for the Liverpool strikers to run
on to. That is no secret, but the tactic does work
well. And Robbie Fowler, for all his brilliance,
cannot play that way. If England pick up any serious
injuries - for instance if Owen's hamstrings snap
again - then they will be in trouble.
England also have to play one more match in the
sweltering heat of a Japanese afternoon. England's
two best performances - this one, and against
Argentina - have come in night games, when the heat
and humidity was lower. Indeed, in Sapporo, England
were able to play in a climate-controlled venue, where
the heat and humidity were not factors. In Shizuoka
it will be. For proof of this compare the performance
this afternoon with that against Nigeria. Then
England were often poor, and certainly could not press
like they did in the first half today. And don't
forget who that quarter final is going to be against.
Alright, the second round match between Belgium and
Brasil has not been played yet, but I doubt if fifty
people who read this will expect Belgium to win.
Brasil have a look of the 1982 team about them at the
moment, with big wins then against Scotland and New
Zealand matching big wins against China and Costa Rica
today. For Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Junior and Eder
read Ronaldinho Gaucho, Juninho, Rivaldo, Roberto
Carlos and Ronaldo - it is a frightening thought for
an English fan.
Brasil are every English fans' second favourite team.
We love the jogo bonito way of doing things, the long
lingering shots of wonderfully skilled players on
Copacabana beach, and adore all things Pelé. The
finest, most fondly remembered match in England's
history? After the 1966 World Cup Final it is easily
the group match against Brasil in 1970, Bobby Moore's
greatest match. Why? Well even if Brasil won 1:0, it
is remembered for England almost beating what the
country considers the greatest team ever to play
football, for Gordon Banks' wonder save from Pelé, and
for Bobby Moore making tackle after perfect tackle.
That game has been repeated at least 10 times over the
last two weeks on the BBC's digital World Cup service,
but few get tired of seeing it. Even I have to say
that I happily watched it the first time it was shown
- and I am supposed to hate Brasil aren't I?
So no hope for England then? Not quite. First of all
in this tournament of shock results Brasil still have
to beat Belgium. Four years ago another tough
European team - Denmark again - pushed them all the
way in the quarter final, as Holland did even more
emphatically in the semis. Better still, in the first
round of this competition Brazil barely beat Turkey -
indeed, had it not been for atrocious refereeing they
would not have done. Turkey conceded possession to
Brasil for much of the match but were able to exploit
poor defending to score goals and make chances.
Belgium have been unspectacular so far, and should not
be able to beat Brasil. But you never know. Who
would have thought the US would beat Portugal or
Denmark and Senegal would both beat France?
England will take a lot of heart from Turkey's
fighting performance against Brasil. Hakan Sas and
Yildiray Bastürk both found plenty of space and joy
against Lucio, Roque Junior and Edmilson in the heart
of Brasil's defence, and had Hakan Süker been more
probing up front, who knows what might have been.
Similarly, Paulo Wanchope found plenty of space
against the same defence for Costa Rica - just what
could Owen do? And don't forget that since Niclas
Alexandersson scored for Sweden in the first game,
David Seaman has not had to pick another ball out of
his goal. If Seaman can collect another clean sheet
in the quarter final he will match Peter Shilton's
record of four consecutive scoreless games from 1982 -
and the way his defence is playing the odds on him
doing that, and breaking it one game later, must have
Do I think England can do it: can beat Brasil and go
on to their third semi final? Yes, of course I do. Do
I think they will do it? Well England are brimming
with confidence, Owen and Heskey both scored against
Denmark and the defence is currently better than any
other at the finals. Against that, Brasil are still
Brasil. Will England believe they can win? Yes I
think they do. England have historically become a
better team as the competition has gone on, and they
seem to be doing that now. Also, ever since the draw
last December I have been writing that Brasil are
going to lose once they meet a good team. Now England
are that good team, so why should I change my mind
now? Brasil have shown me nothing to make me think
substantially differently so far. Let's see what
happens against Belgium first.
Four games down, three to go. Come on England.
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