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World Cup Day 23 - Same old, same old

Just for the record, I'm writing this post on the basis that I only saw the penalty shoot-out yesterday during an unscheduled break during cricket (slightly different from rain stops play I guess!) - although I did catch the highlights on both channels later in the evening.

Rather then than write up a match report, I thought I'd address a few general points from what I saw from the game and also the tournament in general:

Heroic or failure?

It seems every time England crash out of a tournament there is a ready make excuse or list of factors that they can fall back. The 'lottery' of penalties, an unjust sending off, injuries, a poor refereeing decision and so on. Can a team be that unlucky? At one point do you have to look beyond excuses and look into reasons that the tactical approach didn't work, the 'big time' players (again) failed to deliver when it matters, the players are not 'clever' enough to deal with the teams and tactics they come across.

Also reading some of the press today, their approach seems to be to not fall back on this 'unlucky tag, where brave England crash out heroically after battling to overcome the odds (again) but to hold the players and coaching responsible. Rent-a-quote managers such as 'Arry Redknapp have been queueing up to attack the 'waste of a generation'.

The sending off

Above all else, it was a sending off. Whilst not a vicious stamp, Rooney did stamp out at Carvalho and the lack of suprise on his face when the card was brandished suggested he may of expected it. Ronaldo did not act with a great deal of credit in rushing in to offer his suggestions on an appropriate course of action but it did not have an impact on the decision.

Perhaps Rooney was a victim of his own determination in that having been fouled and held back he lashed out in frustration more than intent to injure. However, it was ill-advised and he deserved to go.

Playing with ten men

From the little I saw, England looked to be the more confident and positive side. The introduction of Lennon and Crouch worked well and they arguably looked better with ten men (although this obviously led to a lack of support for Crouch in attack).
The better of the chances fell to them and a little more composure in front of goal and it could have been a different story.

The main drawback was the fact that with ten men, England couldn't then change the formation to accomodate an extra striker to go alongside Crouch either late on or in extra time.

Paying the penalty

Completely opposite to the success the Germans have in this situation, England yet again crash out of a tournament on penalties. The key penalty yesterday was the Gerrard miss, because if he had scored then the pendulum swings England's way. At no stage did England gain an advantage during them.

Only Owen Hargeaves looked to approach his with any confidence. Lampard and Gerrard appeared hesitant before they stepped up and Carragher was never going to score his second attempt.

It is clearly not a technical issue, but maybe now the spectre of spot kick defeats in recent years weighs heavy and they are psychologically beaten before they begin.

Sven's legacy

If this tournament was to be the defining point of his England tenure, then a quarter-final defeat is probably about right. He has been paid a very high salary in comparison to his international counterparts and has survived several controversial incidents during his time as coach.

He has been blessed with as talented group of players as seen in recent times, with this tournament the pinnacle for them (although I believe better is to come) but has not progressed in terms of results from either Hoddle or Venables.

In terms of tactics, he has often been conservative and unwilling to experiment with the make up of the side - until this tournament when he gambled with the make-up of the squad and at least varied the tactical approach.

He has never been a popular choice with the press - much of which I believe is down to him not being English, and his tactics and general approach have been widely criticised. Clearly he hasn't done a bad job, but the overriding feeling is that he could, and should have done much more.

The future

A new coach comes in, and now a new captain too following Beckhams's resignation earlier today. Steve McLaren for me is a safe, but uninspiring choice (Scolari being my preferred option). He does appear though to have the respect of the players and is spoken about as being innovative in his methods.

Personnel wise, there perhaps isn't any important part of the squad which shouldn't be there for Euro 2008 and then the next World Cup also. There is also an impressive cast of talent ready to make their mark on the side. What needs to happen now is for McLaren to identify the players he feels will be part of those tournaments and to run with them.

This will leave a big question mark over Beckham. He hasn't warranted a place in the side based on this tournament, with his main strength being a particular weakness. England also looked brighter when Lennon came on in that position (and when SWP filled it before him) and McLaren will need to be bold when it comes to his decision making. Perhaps, part of the reason behind Beckham's decision was so he could again be seen to 'earn' his position in the side rather than by default as the captain.

As far as replacements go, it seems to be a straight fight between John Terry and Steven Gerrard. Personally, I would hand it to Terry. He has grown in to the role in the side over the past year and as the tournament progressed built a decent partnership with Rio Ferdinand. Gerrard struggled at times and didn't display his Liverpool form. Terry also seems to be more of a 'vocal' leader to inspire and galvanise those around him and maybe it needs that type of leader figure at the forefront of the side.