With much of the pre-match discussions revolving around who will partner Wayne Rooney in attack or who starts in goal, both were answered with performances that may have a lasting impact on England’s campaign in the
2 Johnson – 20 King – 6 Terry – 3 Ashley Cole
7 Lennon – 4 Gerrard – 8 Lampard – 16 Milner
21 Heskey – 10 Rooney
In accordance with the Three Lions’ hugely successful qualifying campaign, Emile Heskey got the nod to accompany Rooney at the spearhead of England’s attack, with Rob Green starting in goal. The latter’s glaring fumble into his own net left fans haunted by David Seaman in 2002, by Scott Carson and Paul Robinson (both against Croatia) – another goalkeeping mistake that could cost England dearly. Clint Dempsey’s 40th minute snapshot looked comfortable. The Fulham man was outside the box and his shot was hit straight at Green, who was positioned well but the ball squirmed between his palms and into the net. The West Ham stopper lunged in despair to claw it out of his goal, but failed to prevent the United States from equalising fortuitously. As England limped towards the tunnel, left winded by that sucker-punch, Green looked deprived of confidence following the horrendous mistake. But after every mistake, the way in which you bounce back will portray an individual’s true character. Green will face sterner tests than the second-half of this encounter, but his full-stretch save to push Jozy Altidore’s shot onto his post will have gone some distance to restoring self-belief, whilst others will need more reassuring,
Before the game, many had championed the revolutionary idea of utilising Steven Gerrard just behind Rooney, but even Heskey’s most ardent supporters could not have anticipated the former Liverpool man’s performance. He dominated the early aerial battles, he was keen to run the channels and his superbly weighted reverse pass found Gerrard who gave England an early lead. After such an encouraging start, Heskey flat-lined. For every header won, there was a flag adjudging the Aston Villa forward offside. Then on 51 minutes, he burst into life, racing onto a loose ball but his blasted effort was well held by Howard.
As time run out, Rooney attempted to lift his previously subdued performance to that of a proposed match-winner. Gerrard’s cross brushed the top of the Manchester United man’s head and drifted out for a goal kick. Rooney’s speculative shot from distance flew past Howard’s left-hand post before the forward fed Shaun Wright-Phillips down the left flank. With the winger insisting on taking the chance on his right foot, he curled his shot straight at Howard who parried behind. And from the resulting corner, this time Rooney was to be denied by Howard, who held his tame cross-shot.
The inclusion of Ledley King at centre-half paid testament to his form for his club, but injury (gained early on in the match) forced Capello to send Jamie Carragher on in his place at the interval. The injury to Rio Ferdinand has highlighted the need for a defensive partner for John Terry, with many believing King to be the man to replace the injured captain. However King’s own medical record leaves a lot to be desired, and his premature withdrawal leaves concerns regarding his conditioning being suitable for competitive international football. He looked assured in his time on the pitch, but both he and his replacement struggled to cope with the pace of American front men Altidore and Robbie Findley.
James Milner – who started on the left-hand side of midfield – was fouled, booked and then replaced in half-an-hour. The 24-year-old was the least experienced of the England starting XI and after the caution, was withdrawn to protect the risk of a second yellow card. Milner had missed training earlier in the week due to a stomach bug, but seemed healthy enough when tracking back effectively to thwart American counter-attacks.
So with the much hyped, often-dreaded first game out of the way, England come away with a point. Green’s error gifted United States a lifeline but the failure to create another opening of the quality of Heskey’s assist for Gerrard’s outside-of-the-foot finish will hold greater significance with Coach Fabio Capello. The draw is not the ideal start, but a solid foundation on which to build ahead of the Algeria game on June 18.
England 1-1 United States – Gerrard 4 – Dempsey 40
England: Green – G. Johnson, King (Carragher 46), Terry, A. Cole – Lennon, Lampard, Gerrard, Milner (Wright-Phillips 30) – Heskey (Crouch 79), Rooney
United States: Howard – Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra – Donovan, Clark, Bradley, Dempsey – Findley (Buddle 77), Altidore (Holden 86)