By Ben Thomas
The final result was not a disaster, but the nature of the calamity that lead to England dropping two points has infuriated English fans who have seen the re-emergence of an old foe: The England goalkeeping blunder Green’s fumble from Clint Dempsey’s tame shot last night is the latest in a line of outrageous decisions on the part of England’s goalkeepers that have cost the country big in important games.
To his credit, Robert Green stood up to the press talking about his mishap for twenty minutes. Mere words cannot undo what had already passed but Green certainly hasn’t taken his mistake lightly. Great sportsmanship was shown by the American goalkeepers Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann who both made a point to go and console Green together after the final whistle.
England head coach Fabio Capello has tried to increase the competition between his three goalkeepers, Green, Joe Hart and David James, by not naming an outright first choice from the trio and leaving it until the very last minute yesterday to name Green in the starting eleven. The Italian has given nothing away in his squad selection and raised many eyebrows with his squad selection, starting James Milner ahead of Joe Cole, then substituting him before half time to be replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips because of a booking.
His gamble on Ledley King’s inclusion also seems to have backfired. The Spurs centre back has long been injury prone with consistent knee problems and in last night’s game he lasted only forty-five minutes before being forced off with a groin problem to be replaced by Jamie Carragher. King has been ruled out of Friday’s game against Algeria which will concern Capello, already without Rio Ferdinand who was ruled out of the entire tournament last week after injuring himself in training.
From an English perspective the game started very well. New team captain Steven Gerrard poked home a well worked shot from Emile Heskey’s through ball after less than four minutes. England looked comfortable and much improved from the cautious, nervous performances they gave against Mexico and Japan in their final official warm up games. But despite having much of the ball, going forward Rooney failed to make an impact and in the absence of Gareth Barry who was not considered fit enough to start, Gerrard seemed to be filling in much deeper as England had no natural defensive midfielder, limiting his influence going forward.
The calamity struck in the forty-second minute as Fulham’s Clint Dempsey hit a weak, long range shot straight at Robert Green. The goalkeeper failed to control it and the ball bounced behind and to his right, over the line. To be fair to Dempsey who claimed the goal, he did some very good work of turning Gerrard inside out before getting his shot off, but it was easily the type of chance that you would expect a goalkeeper to save, provoking jokes this morning that Thierry Henry can handle the ball better than Green.
At half time Carragher replaced King and Joey Altidore took his chance to exploit the Liverpool defender’s lack of pace as the US hit England on the break, only for Green to push the American’s shot onto the post. This save kept England in the game, but in the eyes of many will have only done so much to atone for his previous mistake.
Rooney began to force his way into the game much more in the second half, hitting a well aimed shot from outside the area, forcing an impressive save from Tim Howard, and laying off a brilliant chance to Wright-Phillips, only for the winger to hit it straight at the keeper. Heskey, who also missed a golden opportunity to put England back in front, came off late on for Peter Crouch but the Spurs striker didn’t have the time to have any influence on the game as England continued to rally in search of a winner.
A 1-1 draw is a fair result, but the manner in which the equaliser was conceded will be remembered for many years to come and I am sure the vast majority of England fans will see this as two points dropped rather than one point gained. A more objective, neutral observer may wish to give more credit to the United States, who put up a real fight for the entire ninety minutes. The American squad’s body language and celebrations at the end of the match could have fooled you into thinking that they were the victors, but in truth there was a huge element of luck involved in the goal that gave them their point and aside from Altidore’s second half chance, they had few other convincing opportunities to score. As it is England fans will now be thinking of what could have been, had Green done his job and saved that shot. Capello now has a daunting task on his hands rebuilding confidence in the squad and specifically in a goalkeeper who looks at the moment to be targeted as this summer’s English villain. We shall see if Green is still Capello’s first choice come Friday.