England Qualifying Report: Belarus

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 22:02 | Filed in Sport

England’s qualification can be best summed up in two words. Job done. They have qualified for the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. To some extent, everything else — where they finished in the group, how they performed in qualification and so on — is pretty much immaterial.

England have generally performed very well against the lesser nations: the defeat against Ukraine can be accounted somewhat by the fact that they were down to ten men (but Rio Ferdinand’s mistake which led to Robert Green’s red card needs to be considered: unless he’s going to demonstrate he can concentrate, is he a potential liability in South Africa? — although he did play pretty well tonight) and also the fact that we had already qualified as group winners by this stage.

Against Belarus, England’s performance was pretty much par for the course in this qualifying tournament (if you ignore the Ukraine blip): looking comfortable at times, looking lackadaisical in others, but generally making sure to take advantage when they were on top and ending up with a fairly comfortable 3-0 win in the end, which could have been even more comfortable if either Milner or Beckham had managed to squeeze their shots inside, rather than onto the post in the last few minutes.

Beckham again proved his worth for England: he’s remarkably comfortable on the ball, and capable not only of adjusting the tempo but has quite an amazing range of passing over various distances, as well as the known danger from free-kicks. But — apart from the injustice of Peter Crouch being passed over for man of the match to bit-part Beckham, despite scoring two goals and playing well — the bigger question must be is Beckham fit for South Africa?

It seems to me that Capello is reluctant to start with Beckham, instead offering him cameo appearances for 20-35 minutes to bolster his already impressive appearance record. But is it really worth taking Beckham as a supersub? To be honest, I’d probably answer yes — at the moment. But that all depends on who wouldn’t be going instead. I’d be disappointed if James Milner didn’t make it (and I fail to understand how the Newcastle hierarchy didn’t understand what a quality player they had at the time: the fans knew it*).

*Oh wait, they probably didn’t watch him play; they just saw a few YouTube clips or something…

However, the ease in which England qualified for the tournament (like they always do: let’s just pretend McClaren and Taylor didn’t happen) suggests that really these qualifying games are, for the most part, too easy for England. It’s like seeing Rangers and Celtic in the Scottish league: they suffer on the bigger stages because they don’t get to play enough competitive games against higher-quality teams.

However, the fact England qualified so comfortably does not really mean much in terms of how we’re likely to do in the World Cup. We qualified as group winners, which ought to see us in the first pot of teams, which also ought to see us given a group we can get through — and if we can top that, I’d expect us to make it through the second round as well. Which takes us to the quarter-final, and that’s where the problems start.

England are amongst the best of the world’s footballing nations. That is not the same as the best. When we come up against others from this elite group, we have shown a tendency to struggle: we’ve reverted to a long-ball type of game which is less effective against teams who have defenders capable of soaking up pressure; we’ve developed a bit of a hoodoo in relation to penalty shoot-outs which presumably means that going into them now, we won’t be nearly as confident.

That is where the real test for Fabio Capello will start. If he can produce an England team capable of beating Holland, Germany, Italy or Brazil, then we might well have a chance of success. One of the things which will surely count in our favour is that we will be playing in the South African winter, as opposed to international tournaments when we usually have to play in much hotter conditions than the players are used to.

Can Capello prepare them well enough to beat the better teams? Are we capable of winning the World Cup? I think the answer to both questions is yes. But that’s still a very different thing from saying that we will win it: there is much that can go wrong (and knowing us, probably will) between now and then.

But for now, we’ve done all that we would have asked for at the start of the campaign. We’ve qualified, and we’ve qualified comfortably. That will do until next summer…

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3 Comments to England Qualifying Report: Belarus

  1. edwin sanchez says:

    October 16th, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    3-0, but not impressive. Most teams would run rings around that slow bunch I saw against Belarus. And will we ever get over Beckham? It doesn’t seem like it from what you guys write. But surely, there is a midfield player in the UK that can do what Beckham does well, and maybe even better. If that is not the case, maybe England should stay home.

  2. 1234test.com says:

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  3. Jimbo says:

    September 5th, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Good point. I hadn’t toughht about it quite that way. :)

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