Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

It is no great surprise to learn that two years ago, Rio Ferdinand was dancing on the table in a bar in Miami, but his slightly sheepish recollection of how he spent the 2004 European Championships – for which he was suspended after missing a drugs test – is a reminder of the invigorating effect Wayne Rooney had on England during that tournament.

The Manchester United forward’s fitness continues to vex England. “In my opinion he is match-fit,” the England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson said on Wednesday. “But I will sleep on it.”

That Professor Angus Wallace, the independent consultant who mediated between the Football Association and Manchester United over Rooney’s return, flew out to Germany yesterday, two days earlier than expected, suggested just how seriously Eriksson is considering using Rooney as soon as possible.

The other doubt concerns Gary Neville, who had a scan on a calf strain on Wednesday night. Jamie Carragher could replace him, but on Wednesday night Eriksson hinted he may select Owen Hargreaves, on the grounds that his pace is better suited to combating Aurtis Whitley, who will come in on the Trinidad and Tobago left in the reshuffle necessitated by Avery John’s red card in their opening game.

It remains likely that Rooney will only be used if England take a comfortable lead, but on the evidence of Saturday’s opening game there is no guarantee of that position of superiority presenting itself. While Trinidad showed admirable resolution, even after being reduced to 10 men, to cling on to a draw against Sweden, England were insipid in their 1-0 win over Paraguay.

“The result is the most important thing,” Ferdinand said. “We have to go out and get a win, no matter what the style. If we win the World Cup playing like that, in 10 years we won’t be looking back and complaining.”

If they play like that, though, England will not come close to winning the World Cup, something Ferdinand acknowledged.

“After all the build-up, sometimes the first game can be an anti-climax,” he said. “The second game will be a truer gauge.”

The theory sounds good, but the problems were worryingly familiar. The distance between back four and front two was too great, leaving the central midfield with too much ground to cover. This contributed both to England’s fatigue and the over-reliance on the long ball.

Remarkably, Eriksson criticised – albeit obliquely – Michael Owen, a player who had previously seemed above such things. “If the passing is not good enough, it is not always about the player who has the ball,” he said. “It is also about the players without the ball. Are they coming for the ball? Are they making good runs?”

On Saturday Owen certainly was not. Perhaps the way Crouch towered six inches over the Paraguayan centre-backs encouraged the route-one fallacy, but today he will face the unique prospect of being marked by a centre-back who matches him for height, Wrexham’s Dennis Lawrence.

Nevertheless, Trinidad are vulnerable to the crossed ball: Jan Koller, the giant Czech Republic forward, scored twice against them in a recent 3-0 friendly win.

The Czechs, though, as they showed in their 3-0 win over USA on Monday, are a side who base their play on a web of midfield passing; Koller is a variation – that is what Crouch must become.

“There are aimless long balls, and there are good ones,” Ferdinand said. That is a simple truth, but it is fundamental.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Comments have not been enabled for this article.