England were very good. Their best performance of the tournament so far. Utterly stifled Ecuador, controlled the game, made chances, won going away. Ecuador could have played 900 minutes, wouldn’t have scored. But every silver lining has its cloud - Hargreaves was a serious weakness at right back. Every time Delgado peeled away onto the full back, there was trouble, because he can’t do anything against that diagonal ball, or even just overhit crosses (of which there were plenty!). Once again, Lampard wasn’t good, and nor was Beckham, set piece apart. The pace of the game was much too much for him, and Sven left him on too long. Once he was sick, Lennon should have come on. His stamina has to be a serious concern now, if it wasn’t before. But England have plenty of options there, so whether or not he plays, it’s not a big deal. But if Neville still isn’t fit, Carragher has to play right back against the Portuguese. I hate to think of Figo and the Human Stepover running at Hargreaves.
I think we’ve got nothing to fear against Portugal. Holland are a bad side, and Portugal only just got past them. Their defence looked very vulnerable, particularly from crosses. And they’ll be without their playmaker Deco, Costinha (eh, no great loss), and hopefully, that limp-wristed pillowbiter who minced, pranced and sashayed his way off the pitch after Boulahrouz’s innocuous challenge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I recommend everyone read it. It’s amazingly idiotic and nonsensical, in a way that Skip Bayless or Jay Mariotti can only dream about. I’ve never heard of this guy Michael Davies before, but from now on I plan to read him religiously, so I know what not to think. Seriously, if this guy told me it was raining, I’d look out of the window.
England were OK, certainly not very good. Ecuador very nearly scored but for what could be the save of the tournament from Ashley Cole chasing back. Even then the defender got lucky and the ball cannoned off the crossbar. But for his block - and no other player on the pitch would have got back to make that challenge - Ecuador score in about 10 minutes of football, somewhat less than 900 minutes.
To single out Hargreaves as a weakness at the back also seems unfair. He got no support from his sickly captain, while Terry has become a nervous wreck and Rio has looked far from assured. Good to see Ashley Cole back to form though - the guy just never stops running.
I think England have plenty to fear from Portugal. Until Costinha got sent off, Portugal were dominating a game against a team far better than any that England have met so far in the tournament and England have yet to dominate even a twenty-minute period of a game. Scolari is a much better coach than Eriksson, and while they will miss Deco perhaps more than any other player, they are not short of midfield options. The Stepover looks likely to be out too, injured.
There is also a question mark over Figo who may be more severely reprimanded by FIFA for head-butting. (Anyone who headbutts Van Bommel deserves a payrise, IMO - the only thing Figo did wrong was to do it half-heartedly.) But since Figo was already punished for that incident with a yellow card, it may be beyond the power of FIFA to add an additional punishment. I think they can only use TV evidence to punish things that have gone unnoticed by the referee. But how the ref could come to a decision to show Figo a yellow, since he obviously didn’t see the incident, is beyond me. It’s either a straight red or he admits he missed it. I wonder if he carded him for something else - the pushing afterwards (“handbags”, as the British media likes to call it) - so maybe Figo could still be suspended for a game or two. I doubt it though.
Thinking more about that game last night, I’m really annoyed about how that arsehole of a referee spoiled it. On paper, it looked the best of the last-16 games and probably the hardest one to call too.
However, you could say Holland started it off by diving all over the place to get players booked and it ended up spoiling their own chances. It looked like it was a deliberate tactic, maybe designed specifically for that referee, or maybe because all the referees so far have been quick to punish bad-looking tackles and slow to punish diving. Either way, their cunning plan achieved its aim but it backfired on them.
The other thing about the Dutch is their divisive and ultimately self-destructive attitude to a team game. I thought Van Basten had done well to pick a mainly young squad, overlooking the likes of Makaay, Davids and Seedorf for players who are more likely to play as a team. But then he speaks out publicly against Ruud Van Nistelrooy and ends up playing Kuyt and then Wotsisname Of Somewhereelse comes on with RVN left on the bench. Now I am no fan of the horse-faced United striker at all - other than Van Bommel, I dislike him more than any other Dutch player - but I do think that in the dreadful circumstances that the game was played under last night, I’d back RVN to get me an equalizer ahead of most players in the tournament. Yet you know that Van Basten will return home adamant that RVN showed the wrong attitude and therefore could not be picked, but I can’t help wondering how much is down to a certain pride or stubbornness that seems peculiar to the Dutch. I know Ferguson took issue with RVN too, but it seems different. I don’t believe Ferguson would ever jeopardize his own chances of winning in order to make a point. Yet every tournament, there is a Dutch player or two who won’t be picked or refuses to play because he thinks the manager’s an idiot.
But then, Dutch managers seem more sought after than any other nationality. Hiddinck, Advocaat and Beenhaker (excuse spellings) all manage foreign teams and with some success too. Maybe the Dutch are more informed about the tactics of the game which leads to them becoming highly opinionated in a situation that calls for unity and compliance. Too clever for their own good?