England Camp Focus – England create platform on which to build

Having made three changes to the starting line-up that faced Algeria, Head Coach Fabio Capello can feel justified in his selection following a vastly improved England performance which must be built on for the last-16 match against Germany. Capello’s hand was forced in bringing Matthew Upson into the starting-XI in place of the suspended Jamie Carragher, and following the inclusions of Jermain Defoe and James Milner on a tactical basis all three had an important part to play.

Upson, although starting somewhat on the shaky side grew into his performance and his partnership with John Terry. England were rarely troubled with some poor Slovenian set-pieces but on the odd occasion where there was a breach both Terry and Upson showed the kind of heart the England fans were craving. Upson also played an extremely vital role in proceedings in the dying stages of the game when his last ditch challenge prevented an extremely inviting opportunity for the Slovenians which if taken would have sent England home for an early exit. It is this challenge which may well justify his selection ahead of Carragher for the Germany match. Defoe was lively throughout with the goal typifying all the attributes possessed by the Tottenham man. Throughout his career Defoe has combined pace and movement with expert finishing – all three were in evidence for his goal fully justifying his selection. However, if England are to achieve any success against some of the stronger teams in the tournament chances like the one which was presented to Defoe early in the second-half will have to be dispatched.

Milner was arguably the most successful of the three on the night, despite Defoe scoring the winning goal. After a nervous and undistinguished start, once the Aston Villa man settled into his stride he was to prove a real thorn in the side of the Slovenians. His cross for England’s goal was the kind to have strikers salivating, as was another in the first-half, but his overall performance was the most impressive. Much of what was good about this England performance came from an improving partnership between Milner and Glen Johnson. This was in evidence for the goal and countless times during the second-half. An attribute Milner also brings to the side where the likes of Aaron Lennon may be lacking is the solid defensive side of his game. His tireless efforts ensured Johnson was always provided with the cover he needed. This partnership may be particularly important against a German side who like to utilise the pace and power of Lukas Podolski down the left. If Podolski is left one-on-one against Johnson he may seriously expose the defensive frailties of England’s right-back.

This England performance was a huge improvement from the Algeria match but by no means was it vintage. The use of the ball through the midfield was a marked improvement than the first two matches, with more short sharp passes being interchanged building on improved movement between the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. There was very little use of the long ball up to the forwards, with the only real time the ball was lofted into the air being through an intelligent switch of flanks. England were also able to demonstrate the ability to put opposition under continued pressure, something which was sorely missed against Algeria. However, possession was given away too easily in dangerous positions when England were overcommitted. Gareth Barry was guilty of this on more than one occasion prompting question marks over the match fitness of the Manchester City man. Retention of the ball in key areas is something Capello will be striving to improve in the training between now and Sunday. Defoe was not alone in missing a gilt-edged opportunity with the likes of Rooney, Frank Lampard and Gerrard all required to do much better with the chances which were presented to them. It is unlikely England will be so fortunate during the last-16 and when a chance arrives it must be taken.

Rooney was arguably England’s most disappointing performer on the night. At times the Manchester United man showed his touch and class – most notably with a sublime pass to present Gerrard with a great chance – but he still seemed to struggle at times. If he had fired past Samir Handanovic it may have done just as much for his overall confidence than the scoreline on the night. England with a below par Rooney may have had enough to overcome a Slovenian side somewhat overawed by the big occasion, but if they are to progress through the last-16 encounter to a potential quarter-final meeting with Argentina it is imperative Rooney reaches peak form and fitness. The team performance may have provided the platform for a continued improvement but when it really matters come the knock-out stages all of England’s key players have to be hitting top form, which on current evidence is not the case.


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