Matthew Monk


 
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 this event.

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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 fearsome opponents.

    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 narrowed considerably.

    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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