Monday, 27 August 2007

England 1-2 Germany: The Aftermath

Once again, England failed to impress in another friendly. The accusations that this was "meaningless" are perhaps unfounded; international managers do have to test their squads before their crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers, but England were poor against a second-string German side. For the first twenty minutes, England played rather well and capped it off with a goal from Frank Lampard that he hopes will silence his critics. After that, England were unimpressive and rarely looked like converting the chances they created. Paul Robinson took the headlines for his mistake, which was not really the "howler" that was widely reported. It was a mistake, but the clamour to have the Spurs 'keeper replaced has been coming. The match proved that issues such as goalkeeper selection, Beckham's workload and forward options must be resolved before England face Israel and Russia.

Robinson came in for David James during the 2006 World Cup Qualifying campaign following mistakes made by the latter against Austria and has held the place since. James has since moved to Portsmouth, after being dropped from the England squad by McClaren when he took charge after the World Cup. Impressive form has seen James recalled to the squad and despite an unspectacular half in the goal at Wembley on Wednesday, has every chance of playing in the upcoming qualifiers. Despite looking slightly unconvincing against Chelsea at the weekend, he is perhaps the best choice in the short-term as the players need to have confidence in their goalkeeper. With Ben Foster injured and Scott Carson, while impressive in the U-21 European Championships is inexperienced, James is the only viable option for McClaren, should he dispense with Robinson.

Another talking point was David Beckham's inclusion following his trans-atlantic flight from Los Angeles. McClaren, now seemingly reliant on a player that he inexplicably dropped once appointed England manager, allowed him to play the full 90 minutes. Beckham is still nursing the ankle injury that has hampered his start to life in the MLS and one would have thought that in the interests of everyone he should have stayed in the USA to allow him to recover for Galaxy and for England. Even more absurdly, he played in the "Superclassico" against Chivas, just thirty hours after playing for England on a different continent. Indeed the players representatives and Alexi Lalas will have to handle the situation differently next time Beckham plays for England.

Jermain Defoe was included in the squad despite not being in Tottenham's first team plans, and his hapless start to the season continued as Peter Crouch, who is suspended for England's next match, and winger Kieron Dyer were brought on ahead of him. Michael Owen played at Wembley and although his positioning was usually quite good, his lack of match fitness was evident as he missed chances that a fully fit Owen would have put away. Owen is getting there, but with Wayne Rooney injured and Crouch suspended, England's options up front look limited, which makes the selection of Dyer over Defoe as a substitute all the more baffling.

There were a few positives to take from the game, and although we may not all share Steve McClaren's optimism, the match wasn't a complete waste of time. Micah Richards was impressive once again, this time at right-back and has managed to continue his good start to the season. A fully fit Joe Cole is certainly an asset to England and didn't look out of place. Michael Owen needs games, and he managed to get involved at Wembley. Problems are still there for McClaren and the Brave New England we were seeing at the start of his reign last summer could not seem further away as he brings back players such as James and Beckham that he dropped in order to rescue a Euro 2008 qualifying campaign in danger of falling short.