England had to settle for a disappointing point on their opening game of the World Cup as Robert Green’s inexplicable mistake gifted USA a well-earned point.
Steven Gerrard had given England the perfect start as he shot past Tim Howard following good work by Emile Heskey. The England captain collected a cute lay off from the Aston Villa striker and turned the ball into the corner of the goal with the outside of his boot with only four minutes on the clock.
England however, failed to seize the initiative and struggled to fashion many clear cut chances. They were relatively comfortable and their lack of urgency was punished when USA equalised before half time. Clint Dempsey’s tame effort from outside the area was allowed to squirm past Green’s gloves and into the net. It was a horrible moment for the West Ham goal keeper, but there was no doubt he was solely to blame.
Green did however partially make amends when he saved well from Jozy Altidore in the second half. The ex Hull City man’s rasping strike at the near post was well tipped onto the cross bar as Green attempted to atone for his mistake.
Fabio Capello made some big decisions before the game, but at the final whistle they had arguably all backfired. His decision to start James Milner on the left side of midfield was strange considering the Aston Villa winger hadn’t fully trained all week because of illness, and the position in which he has enjoyed the most success this season has been in the centre of midfield. It was even more baffling given Joe Cole’s availability, and the fact that Capello chose to replace Milner with Shaun Wright-Philips on the half hour mark once it was clear Milner was struggling with injury. The Man City winger was largely anonymous and missed his chance to impress.
England’s injury worries were further worsened when Ledley King was forced off at half time with a groin abductor injury and replaced by Jamie Carragher. Carragher had only recently come out of international retirement after being asked by Capello and his rustiness at this level was evident. The Liverpool centre back’s lack of speed was exposed time and time again as Altidore ran him ragged. It is in defence where England should have plenty of concern, with King effectively ruled out for the rest of the tournament. Terry and Carragher look to be a pairing devoid of any pace, and will surely struggle against the top teams.
Upfront, Emile Heskey got the nod to start alongside Wayne Rooney and he partially justified his inclusion with a typically busy display early on. He won numerous flick ons and assisted Gerrard’s goal with an intelligent pass. However, he continued to provide his critics with ammunition as he missed a guilt-edged chance on 52 minues. Aaron Lennon played a wonderful through-ball, but Heskey shot tamely straight at Howard. There is no doubt that Heskey is an important part of Capello’s tactical set up, with the way his hustle and bustle style helps to take the burden off Wayne Rooney. However, it remains to be seen whether his place in the team can be justified if he continues to display such a lack of confidence in front of goal. Some will now press for Peter Crouch’s inclusion for Friday, with the Spurs striker having an enviable strike rate for England.
Capello has a lot of thinking to do before England’s crucial must-win game on Friday. Rob Green will almost certainly be axed after his mistake and there will be those who want the talented but inexperienced Joe Hart to start in goal. Questions marks about who should partner Rooney up front, and the left midfield problem will continue to surface.
England’s World Cup adventure has begun, albeit in a tame and anti-climactic fashion. However people needn’t worry; England drew their first game against Uruguay in 1966 whilst Italy drew against USA 1-1 in the group stages in 2006 and everyone knows how well they ended up doing that tournament. It bodes well.