The Michael Wood Column

Sunday 16 June, 2002

England's immovable object moves into place

Two early goals by Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen followed by a richly deserved strike from Emile Heskey brushed aside a disappointedly nervous Danish side as Sven's men reached the last eight beating Denmark 3-0.

England now face the winners of the Brazil/Belgium game with many people predicting that the resulting clash between the 1966 winners and the 58/62/70/94 champions will decide who will be victorious in this competition. Such talk questions the validity of England's claims to rank this side next to the great teams of World football history.

Certainly there are elements of this side that are ripe for change. Danny Mills still plays a selfish game and fails to impress, Trevor Sinclair has given balance but fails to get behind his man enough for my liking. However with the Beckham/Owen axis beginning to fire one can begin to see how this England side can press claims for the competition and the place amongst football's legends.

David Beckham and Michael Owen have the kind of understanding the is normally only engendered at club level following years on the training ground together. Make no mistake it is the true sign of a World Class player that he makes others better. Add to that Paul Scholes, who's final outcome of his career rests on the next one to three England games. Scholes will be remembered as a great England player, if he plays like the Paul Scholes he can be for the next few games of this world cup, he will be remembered simply as a great player. Scholes has the same class as Beckham and Owen, it is less obvious being hidden behind a sheen of unselfish play and team discipine, but it is there.

Rio Ferdinand has emerged as a world class defender this tournament- I once described him as a midfielder playing at the back, I take it back- and drawn comparisons to Bobby Moore. One wonders what the '66 skipper would make of the current crop? I think he would rate Rio's play but not be pleased with his decision to leave West Ham and in that I agree with him.

Like the current team Moore's England side was made of solid international performers with five World Class players to make it stand out. The 66 side had the skipper obviously, the two Charlton brothers (Jack's abilities are underrated because of his general annoyance in later life but he was that good), Bobby Charlton who has much in common with Beckham including hair- Bob's comb-over-as-full-head being as outrageous a proposition as the moribund skunk that has taken up residence on the dome of Becks- then there was the one that was not.

Sir Geoff Hurst was not a world class player. Like Nicky Butt he was a decent performer who came in, got aa big boost when the manager showed faith in him, and went on to put in some great displays but he lacked the world class distinction of Jimmy Greaves.

Like Jack Charlton Jimmy Greaves' abilities are ignored because of his TV persona in later life. Greaves should have been the man who led England to glory in 1966 but he lost his place to Hurst and the rest really is history. Steven Gerrard limping off against Ipswich in the final Premiership game of the season robbed England of a fifth world class performer, but the open door that Hurst took has been used by Nicky Butt.

Alf Ramsey was much criticized for dropping the wingers from his side, just as Sven takes the flack for defensive displays against Nigeria and, one could argue, Argentina, that saw his side do "just enough".

Sven's side are defensive by nature. The game plan is simple. We shall defend and prevent you from scoring, when you make a mistake we will punish it. The Italian's have been playing this way since the tragic Torino team of the 1950s popularized it and have done well. Italy have not lost crucial World Cup games on the field. 1990 to Argentina, 1994 to Brazil and 1998 were all failures from the twelve yard lottery of penalties rather than defeats in true play. Sven has brought the Italians style to the English.

We sit back and pick off chances born of mistakes. A sloppy corner given away brought out first goal today, our win over Argentina was a penalty when Owen proved too quick, most of our goals in Germany came when the hosts left the back door open chasing chances. yes we have the odd moment or unstoppable football, Gerrard's sidewinder in Munich was hard to stop as are Beckham corners that find the head of the colossus Sol Campbell, but mostly we play on mistakes and give nothing away. You cannot get past us, we seem to say, and in trying to do so you will let us past you.

We are the immovable object.

Brazil. Attacking flair and ability but weaker at the back, are the irresistible force.

Index of column & Biography | Mail