England 1 USA 1
England: Green; Johnson, King (Carragher 45), Terry, A. Cole; Lennon, Gerrard, Lampard, Milner (Wright-Phillips 30); Heskey (Crouch 79), Rooney
USA: Howard; Cherundolo, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra; Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Donovan; Findley (Buddle 77), Altidore (Holden 86)
England and the United States played out a tight 1-1 draw in Rustenburg this evening, a result that was ultimately decided by a catastrophic error by England’s goalkeeper, Robert Green, and leaves Group C wide open with Algeria and Slovenia to play in Polokwane tomorrow afternoon.
From a tactical perspective the game was relatively unimaginative, with both sides opting for a 4-4-2, pressing from the front and relying on their full-backs getting forward to give added impetus to any attacking endeavours. England’s game plan hinged on the positional discipline, stamina and communication of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre of the midfield, both playing as box-to-box midfielders and, although not entirely convincing defensively, getting forward to good effect.
Indeed, the opening goal was the result of Gerrard timing one of his forward runs to perfection, with Jay DeMerit getting pulled horribly out of position and Emile Heskey playing a well-judged reverse pass into his captain’s feet before the Liverpool man calmly placed the ball beyond Tim Howard. In truth, the American defence looked slightly uncomfortable for the duration of the game, particularly when faced with the physicality of Heskey and the pace of Aaron Lennon, the Tottenham winger running with good intent and directness at the heart of the opposition back line.
Lennon and James Milner, the wide midfielders, did a relatively good job of tracking back to cover the runs of the American full-backs (Steve Cherundolo was particularly eager to get forward), although a yellow card for Milner on the half hour saw him instantly replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips who proceeded to play as an inverted winger and used his extra pace to support Ashley Cole in dealing with the pace and trickery of Landon Donovan, a thorn in Capello’s side all evening.
Despite the various positives, England did struggle to keep hold of the ball in the first half. Jose Mourinho’s Inter showed this season that games can be won without dominating possession, but Capello’s system is not conducive to such prolonged spells without the ball. The likes of Donovan, Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley were all given far too much time and space, dictating play with great authority at times, even if they didn’t always create the attacking opportunities their control warranted towards the end of the half.
Bob Bradley’s side also pressed the England midfield to great effect, preventing Gerrard and Lampard from playing incisive passes in to Wayne Rooney who was a relatively anonymous figure before the break. Although the USA’s goal came courtesy of a horrendous error by the unfortunate Robert Green, Dempsey’s strike was a deserved reward for a team that had played its way back into the game after a disappointing start.
The second period saw little by way of tactical variation, the only marked difference being the greater amount of possession enjoyed by England. However, despite having less of the ball, the United States threatened with increased regularity, Jamie Carragher – who replaced Ledley King at half-time – struggling to cope with the blistering pace of strikers Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley, whilst Donovan continued to orchestrate proceedings for his country.
Rooney eventually managed to find more space towards the end of the half, linking up well with Peter Crouch and coming close to breaking the deadlock on a handful of occasions. Bob Bradley, clearly happy to take a point from the game and concerned with England’s strong finish to the game, brought Bolton Wanderer’s Stuart Holden on to replace Altidore in the final minutes, shoring up the midfield in order to prevent Capello’s side having a man over in advanced areas as the match approached its conclusion.
In summary, this was a fairly scrappy game that both teams could have won, but the United States should be proud of the way in which they kept possession and starved Rooney of the ball for much of the game. Capello will be disappointed that his players couldn’t exercise a greater authority on the game, but his team looked less disjointed than they had done in the lead up to the tournament and should be confident ahead of their remaining games against Algeria and Slovenia, particularly with the return of Gareth Barry to the heart of the midfield.
The Equaliser’s Man of the Match:
Steven Gerrard (England) – Could have given it to Donovan for his threat from wide or Heskey for some excellent target-man play, but the England captain was everywhere in the first half and his team’s only genuinely creative influence. Faded slightly after the break but was his country’s best player by some way.