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Woeful England bring glorious summer of sport to a halt

Published: September 12, 2012 | 7:49 am
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The Three Lions were poor as they drew their second World Cup qualifier 1-1 against Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday night in front of a half-empty stadium

Trust the England football team to bring a golden summer of sport to a juddering climax. Roy Hodgson’s side scraped their way to a 1-1 home draw with Ukraine in World Cup qualifying to extinguish any hopes of riding the crest of the Olympic wave.

After a glorious summer for the nation, after the Olympic victory parade and Andy Murray’s US Open tennis victory on Monday, it was always going to be an anti-climax on Tuesday night, wasn’t it?

But England rained on the parade in emphatic style, lacking any cohesion in their play as Frank Lampard’s late penalty saved the Three Lions’ blushes following Yevhen Konoplianka’s stunning first-half opener for the visitors.

The attitude of the public towards the England team could hardly have been clearer. The official attendance of 68,102 was way down on usual qualifiers at Wembley and it felt like less, with the whole upper tier on one side of the stadium completely empty.

Compare that to the packed venues around London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to cheer on barely-known athletes, some of which were presented to the crowd at half-time to just about the loudest cheer of the night.

The managerial change has done nothing to inject some enthusiasm into England but Hodgson is not responsible for the public’s apathy, which feels like it has been building for the last two decades and is yet to reach its absolute nadir.

The contrast between Premier League stars and Olympic and Paralympic athletes has been drawn rather too glibly in some quarters, but what it understandable is that people find it very hard to identify with Hodgson’s highly-paid stars.

Many are considered pampered, arrogant and unsporting and at times they don’t help their own image.

But the heart of the matter is that performances have been bad. Very bad. Fans are fed up, they are bored. Never has there been a more obvious case to rework Fifa’s ranking system than the fact that England are laughably ranked as the third best team in the world.

England were without a number of their main players on Tuesday night – notably John Terry, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole – and reality hit home following the 5-0 thumping of the giants of Moldova in Chisnau on Friday.

Hodgson’s view on the performance against Ukraine was as worrying as it was surprising. The hope must be that he was trying to keep up the morale of the players, attempting to prevent that Wembley fear noted by his predecessor Fabio Capello.

“I’m not prepared to say it wasn’t a great performance,” said Hodgson. “I didn’t think we did that badly. We started very poorly in the first 10 minutes but we had quite good control once we got into the game. I was very pleased with the way we kept probing, playing our football and creating chances.

“You can’t allow the result to totally cloud your judgement on the way your team is playing.”

England were not all bad. Jermain Defoe found the net in the first-half only to find that the referee had penalised him for raising an arm towards a Ukraine defender, while Manchester United midfielder missed wonderful chances to put the hosts ahead before Konoplianka’s firecracker in the 39th minute.

At least he got in the position to score, right? True, but on this stage you can’t miss those chances. The likes of Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain the bright hopes for England but it will take time to iron out the inconsistency.

What has been consistent is the failure of Lampard and Steven Gerrard to operate effectively in a two-man central midfield against good opposition.

Here, Gerrard sat in a deeper role and seemed to play in second gear for most of the game before being sent-off in the dying stages. Gerrard could have little complaint about either booking, the first for a raised arm in an aerial challenge and the second a mistimed tackle from behind.

Shortly after, the scoreboard announced the England captain as the man-of-the-match before, presumably, someone realised he was no longer on the pitch and that honour was awarded to Lampard.

But both players were desperately poor, offering no control of the game, with only substitute Danny Welbeck providing any sort of vibrancy and creativity to England in the entire 90 minutes.

England needed someone like Michael Carrick in midfield to put his foot on the ball and dictate tempo and possession. Instead, the passing was slow, predictable and inaccurate, summed up by the way Joleon Lescott gave the ball away in the build-up to Ukraine’s opener.

England face the prospect of some very tricky trips to Poland and Ukraine in a qualifying group in which only the winner will automatically earn a place at Brazil 2014.

By the end of the campaign, maybe people will feel more energised, but at the moment it’s same old England, boring England, and it could not be a further cry from the glorious summer for other sports.


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