Last night’s 0-0 stalemate in Kiev between England and Ukraine saw the three lions retain their one point advantage at the top of group E. However this hasn’t prevented Roy Hodgson and his players performances last night coming in for some heavy criticism, not least concerning the team’s style of play. But before we bury England and their World Cup hopes in Brazil next summer, let’s analyse both the performance and the result that leaves qualification in English hands.
Firstly, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that a clean sheet last night meant that England have now conceded just three goals in eight matches during this qualifying campaign. While the overall stats are impressive last night’s effort could be even more indicative of a rock solid defense, as Joe Hart was largely untroubled thanks to a watertight back four performing without the injured Glen Johnson and Phil Jones, who both would have likely featured instead of Tottenham right back Kyle Walker. Gary Cahill was outstanding and my MOM, while Joe Hart commanded his area well without making an error; most reassuring after his slightly uneven start to the season. In fact only two teams in the whole of Europe have conceeded less goals than England during this qualifying campaign, Spain and Belgium, who have both conceded just twice although Spain have only played six matches compared to England and Belgium’s eight. So now that we’ve established the defense is just fine thank you very much, lets take a look at England’s much maligned lack of creativity and goal scoring threat..
Before 2010, Ricky Lambert had never played a single match above League One level. Last night, he spearheaded his country’s attack after they were left thin on the ground up top thanks to a rash of injuries and suspensions. Never mind the fact that Lambert looks like he’s just finished a season as a rep in Malia, it’s pretty clear to anyone with a trained football eye that he’s not England’s long term nor first choice number nine. Wayne Rooney, love him or loathe him, is England’s best striker and a player with world class pedigree. How would Holland look if you took Robin Van Persie out of their lineup? What about Brazil without Neymar? England minus Rooney has exactly the same impact as if you took any world class player out of their international side’s starting eleven. As if losing the Manchester United ace wasn’t enough Roy Hodgson was also without the services of Danny Welbeck who has started the season off in fine style, as has Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Andy Carroll started and scored at Euro 2012 but he also was unavailable for selection with a long term achilles injury yet to heal. Ricky Lambert’s call up was an act of desperation from Hodgson, but in his defense what other options did he have? Jermaine Defoe is ill suited to playing alone up front due to his size, or lack of it, and for some unexplained reason Carlton Cole is still a free agent and as a result lacks match fitness.
Taking the top four striking options out of your squad means you’ll probably struggle to score. Consequently, I believe Hodgson’s decision to play it safe on the road was the correct one in a game England couldn’t afford to lose. Not must win, but couldn’t afford to lose. England drew and the equation for their final two games is simple: win both. What if England had won 8-0? A draw and a win would suffice. But if they’d lost? They would have had to win both games just to qualify for the play-offs. It wasn’t pretty, not by any means, but last nights result got the job done in difficult circumstances and ensures their fate is in their hands with two very winnable home games left to come. I’ll leave you with one last stat: England have scored 25 goals so far in qualifying, bettered only by ze Germans (28). Make of that what you will.