UNITED STATES 1
England were denied a victory in their opening Group C game against United States after a Robert Green error allowed Clint Dempsey to equalise Steven Gerrard’s early opener.
England were quick out of the blocks and took the lead after just four minutes through skipper Gerrard. The Liverpool midfielder was played in by Emile Heskey and flicked the ball past Tim Howard with the outside of his right boot. With the United States enjoying the lion’s share of possession following Gerrard’s goal, Fabio Capello brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips for the cautioned James Milner after just 30 minutes in an attempt to get a handle on the dangerous American right flank.
United States were level before half-time when England keeper Robert Green spilled a routine shot from Dempsey over his line in the 40th minute. Despite the American possession, Green had rarely been called into action and lost his concentration at the key moment. Heskey should have regained England’s lead in the 52nd minute but his shooting failed to match his overall play. Having been played through by Aaron Lennon, his effort was hit straight at Tim Howard.
Green went some way to making up for his earlier howler by pushing Jozy Altidore’s shot on to the post after the American striker broke clear of Jamie Carragher. Wright-Phillips had England’s best effort of the second-half after cutting in from the left, but his shot was straight at Howard after being fed by Wayne Rooney, and moments later Heskey headed Gerrard’s cross over the bar. Frank Lampard came close to a winner late on after a swift England break but Oguchi Onyewu stole the ball away with a crucial tackle as the midfielder was about to shoot.
England must now get back on track with a win against Algeria on Friday, and might just have paid the price for underestimating a solid United States side.
Green’s horror moment can largely be attributed to the nerves that will have built up after 40 quiet minutes of the biggest game of his career. The United States had been largely off target with their previous efforts, denying Green the chance to have a solid confidence-boosting touch. Had he already made the fine save he made from Altidore midway through the second-half, it is likely that he would have dealt routinely with Dempsey’s effort. Whether Green should have been selected ahead of the more experienced David James is a debate that will no doubt re-open, especially as it is this kind of error that has counted against James in the past. Opta stats show that Green made more errors than any other player which led to goals in the Premier League last season, but until now Green has been very reliable in an England shirt.
If Capello was brave to start with the relatively inexperienced Green, he was certainly bold with his early substitution of Milner. The Aston Villa winger was preferred to Joe Cole on the left flank, his defensive abilities marking him down as a better candidate to help Ashley Cole handle America’s key man, Landon Donovan. Whether he was still suffering from the effects of the virus that kept him out of training in midweek or not, Milner struggled to get in to the game and was awarded a yellow card for persistent fouling. Capello was quick to act bringing on Wright-Phillips, and the diminutive Manchester City man soon made an impact. Having seen Donovan and Steve Cherundolo enjoy success on the American right, Wright-Phillips was able to turn the tables and Cherundolo swiftly followed Milner in to the book.
Selected ahead of Peter Crouch up-front, Emile Heskey went someway to silencing his critics with an excellent all-round display. Whilst his finishing was as suspect as ever, he played the target man role very well, constantly giving England someone to aim at. If anything, it was a ploy that Capello’s team were tempted to use too often, and there was a lack of imagination at times with England’s midfield looking for the safe option of Heskey. His touch for Gerrard’s goal was crucial, with his bulky frame able to hold off Jay DeMerit and allow him to dink the ball around the corner for the Liverpool midfielder. There is still nothing subtle about Heskey, but even the purists will admit that the big man did what was asked of him in every department bar his finishing.
The United States can feel worthy of their point and will expect to go from underdogs against England to favourites for their remaining two fixtures. Whilst there is a lack of genuinely top class players among their ranks, they were a well organised side who posed England plenty of problems. The midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark gave the more-illustrious combination of Lampard and Gerrard a real game and England struggled to take control of the game in the centre in the first-half, despite the early goal. Altidore really should have scored when through on Green’s goal, and although England enjoyed the better of the latter stages, the result could as easily have gone in America’s favour.
England – Green – Johnson, King (Carragher 46), Terry, Ashley Cole – Lennon, Gerrard, Lampard, Milner (Wright-Phillips 30) – Rooney, Heskey (Crouch 79)
United States – Howard – Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra – Donovan, Clark, Bradley, Dempsey – Findley (Buddle 77), Altidore (Holden 86)