Day 2 round-up: Special Providence edition

“God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.”

Historians have long debated whether Otto von Bismarck really did utter these words, or if they were just unscrupulously attributed to him. Today, however, The Long Ball to Freedom can exclusively (EXCLUSIVE!!1!1!!) reveal that Bismarck did indeed say these words—and he said them precisely around 19.10 GMT on June 12 2002 after watching Robert Green gift the YOU-ESS-AYE!!1!!1!! a point they ill-deserved from an encounter against God’s brave soldiers England.

Ok, that’s it for me impersonating a British tabloid; now for a more sober take on today’s action.

South Korea have put in the best performance of any of the ten teams to play so far in this tournament.  They were incredibly good against Greece, and could’ve scored six. They sure made me look silly for only mentioning in my preview that they were a shadow of their 2002 side.  The 2010 South Korean vintage today came out with a confident and controlled performance to murder a pathetic Greece side which defended as badly as it usually attacks. The South Koreans defended well, controlled the pace of the game and were deadly in attack.  A bit better finishing could’ve seen them bag six. If they can keep this performance up for a couple of more games, it will be perhaps more significant than their 2002 performance because this time it will not be tainted with the allegations of corruption.

Speaking of corruption, the team representing the country cursed to be governed by corrupt, profligate and senseless governments today gave the worst performance of any team so far.  Greece had always been ok with the fact their attack was ridiculous, but they always had their defense.  Today, at least, their attack performed as well as their defense.  Unfortunately, this was because their defense sunk to unchartered depth and not because their attack improved.  Any Greeks who thought that the World Cup might bring a welcome distraction from reading about their government’s shenanigans should think again—reading an audit of government finances will be far more entertaining and optimistic than watching the national team take to the field.  The less said about their performance, the better.  I’ll spare you the gory details in order to discuss Argentina.

Diego Maradona’s boys were very happy to record a victory against Nigeria today.  Make no mistake, there is cause for elation: Nigeria is a solid team, and a win against them in the first round goes a long way to ensuring qualification, and eases the nerves of the players.  But there is, unfortunately, much to worry about.

Argentina do not look like world beaters—yet.  Their defense looked shaky, and a more confident side than Nigeria would have capitalized on many of their slip-ups.  Their midfield was virtually nonexistent, and failed to impose any authority on the game.  Argentina seemed to be playing with only an attack and a defense at times. Their midfield’s only bright light was Mascherano, who practically played as a defender.  Juan Sebastian Veron did everything possible to vindicate those who had criticized his inclusion, and Angel Di Maria looked completely lost in Argentina’s midfield.

Upfront, Carlos Tevez was useless and Higuain disappointed me hugely with his weak performance. The world’s best player, Lionel Messi, showed us many glimpses of why he really is the best player in the world, but unfortunately, he seemed to have lost his clinical finishing today. Overall, there is much to worry Maradona and his fans. The team might have won, but its defense, midfield and attack all failed to convince. Their only goal, after all, came from a set-piece and an awful bit of marking by the Nigerians.

The final verdict is that Argentina did not do enough to convince us that they should win the World Cup, but they did do enough to make us think that they might win it.

Nigeria, on the other hand, do not look very promising.  Yobo was calm and composed in defense, but the rest of the team did not impress.  A more confident side would’ve snatched at least a goal from Argentina’s sloppy defense.  With the form of South Korea, they may not go much further this tournament.

Which brings us back to England vs the US.

It was a good game; definitely the most gripping game of the five played so far.  The pesky Americans put in a solid game and managed to frustrate England.  They were obviously remarkably lucky, these rebellious sorts, but then again, Bismarck was onto something when he talked of special providence.  The Americans celebrated their draw as if they’d won the World Cup, which makes sense, since after all, for the Americans, this is their World Cup final.  Still, it speaks volumes of England’s performance and how much they’ve improved under Capello that they’re now at a point where the US will celebrate a draw against them.

England played much, much better than expected.  This was, by far, the best England performance I’ve seen since their 5-1 defeat of Germany in 2001.  England actually could string more than three passes together!  For the first time in ages, the English players realized they play together in a team. They could find each other with their passes, their runs were timed well, their movement made sense, and they looked like one of those “team” things England had not seen forever. Whatever happens, Capello can take credit for having turned this rag-tag bunch of prima donnas into a proper football team that doesn’t look like a pathetic national embarrassment on the global stage like England in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Except for Frank Lampard, of course, who was as much of a national embarrassment on the global stage as Prince Philip taking a leak on an orphaned homeless girl.

Hero

On the bright side, Steven Gerrard was inspiring. He was on fire in a way that he had only exhibited for Liverpool in the past, and not this last season.  The captain’s armband is what did it for him, in my opinion.  This performance from Stevie, at least in the first half, was Istanbul-esque.  He attacked, defended, tackled, passed, scored and ran like his life depended on it.  England should have made him captain ages ago if it would’ve meant a performance like this.

His first half performance reminded me of the old Arabic poetry verse by Imro’ Al-Qais:

مكر مفر مقبل مدبر معا . . . . . . كجلمود صخر حطه السيل من عل

But there were also many negatives for England.  Frank Lampard, again, put in some of the worst performances ever by an international player.  An England shirt is like kryptonite to Lampard.  It is truly unbelievable how awful this man can be when playing in an England shirt—a fact made the more astounding by how good he is in a Chelsea shirt.  He was utter and complete shit today, and he should never, ever, be given an England shirt based on this pathetic performance.  The last proper game Lampard played for England was in 2004.  He has not done anything decent for England since.  His apathy was only rivaled by his degenerate skills.

Zero

If England are to do anything this tournament, Capello has to drop Lampard.  This isn’t just because he plays like shit; more importantly, this is because if he keeps him in the first team, he’d be clearly announcing that England are a team that picks players based on reputation rather than on performance.  No team can ever win like that.

Emile Heskey worked his giant butt off, but sadly, his best is not quite good enough.  Playing behind him, Rooney could not prosper in the same way he does when he’s alone upfront.  Also, England’s biggest problem, as tweeted by the incomparable ZonalMarking, is that they could not keep possession.  The best way to remedy that is to replace Lampard—the worthless sack of potatoes clogging England’s midfield—with a football player.

If Capello wants my advice (and really, why the hell could he possibly not want my advice?) he should drop Heskey and Lampard from this team and replace them with Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick.  He could then move Steven Gerrard to a withdrawn striker role behind Rooney, and have Carrick and Barry play as central holding midfielders in a 4-5-1. This would play to the strengths of Captain Marvel Steven Gerrard and Wonderboy Wayne Roonye; it would allow England to maintain more possession in midfield thanks to Carrick and Barry’s dictating of the game; and most importantly, it would consign Frank Lampard to a place on the bench, sending a clear signal to every English player that reputations, sponsorship deals and a giant teenage fan-base matter for nothing—only performances count.

But, unlike those sitting in Row Z when Frank Lampard takes a free-kick, I’m not holding my breath.

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About saifedean

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