Argentina, England lack consistency
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG - A tale of two teams.
Argentina and England -- two tournament favourites. One a winner. The other leaving their match with a disappointing point. Neither convincing.
Argentina, although stylish and composed, lacked a second gear against Nigeria. Rather, it had a second gear but fluctuated so much that the team didn't have any consistent rhythm or flow.
The team can do as it pleases against inferior competition as such.
They have skilled players at every position. And play absolutely beautiful soccer when they commit themselves to do so.
But that commitment wanes and so does their stranglehold on games.
Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enayama was fantastic keeping the Super Eagles in the game. But Argentina was surely good for more.
And yes, super-talent Lionel Messi was once again all-world and was unlucky not to score. From near miss to robbed on occasions, the answer to stopping him was taking him down in dangerous areas.
Messi's quick feet, pace and confidence in attack is as impressive as menacing. The opportunities created by Messi, and fellow special talent Carlos Tevez, bodes well.
But such lax play from the rest of the side, content holding back and not pressing the issue has them playing down to inferior competition.
If Nigeria had any decisiveness or cutting edge, the case could be made they deserved a point.
Argentina's deficiencies aren't necessarily a coaching issue. Diego Maradona deploys a dynamic formation that's ever changing. When executed properly, it causes fits.
The team plays with four at the back, but in unorthodox manner. Jonas Gutierrez, who had a nightmare defensively, mans right-back, but actually plays more of an outside right role.
When he pushes up, and he does at will, Javier Mascherano drops deep and essentially plays centre-back, while Martin Demichelis slots to the right.
But when Gutierrez does hold back, Juan Sebastian Veron, and his pristine distribution takes more of a right sided role, with Angel Di Maria sliding into a central role. The inconsistency in design looks great offensively, allowing Messi, Di Maria and Tevez to float and poach in a predator-like manner.
But defensively, this by design "back six" leaves much to be desired.
If Argentina is to rely on its attacking unit's ability to score goals, then so be it. They'll live and die by their finishing.
But the current unit is riddled with inconsistency, which could wind up being Argentina's Achilles heel.
In Rustenburg, England looked like England of old, lucky to leave their opener with anything at all. The words drab, uninspiring and uncreative come to mind.
No need to harp on Robert Green's moment of infamy any longer. If he plays another minute in the tournament, I'd be shocked. Not getting your body behind the ball is inexcusable.
But the rest of the team are as big culprits as the sloppy "shot-stopper."
If playing down to your competition was an issue for Argentina, England wrote the sequel. The United States is a decent side, but England failed to utilize their superior talent.
England played choppy. England played soft. England played scared.
Never mind the failures of individual players, the lack of shape in the team was its biggest flaw. And it's easy for players to come up with stinkers when positional concerns are paramount.
England have two talented, attacking wingbacks that fail to get forward because of defensive frailties. It's not just the centre-backs. The team played with no true holding midfielder to give support, which is all-important to possession and build-up.
That's why the team needs Gareth Barry so much. Or even a Michael Carrick.
Instead, the Lampard-Gerrard centre-midfield combination puts both players of ample talent in negative situations playing against there strengths. And the team is worse off for it.
The construction of a successful team cannot be built on the premise of simply slotting talented individuals into the line-up. It must be based on a well-rounded team. England didn't field that against the U.S.
And until Capello figures this out, the team will remain stale and at the mercy of Wayne Rooney's production, or lack there of.
Luckily for England, doormats Algeria and Slovenia await. But even so, in the World Cup, nothing is a sure thing.
Two teams, a whole lot of hype. But they have a long way to go to have a whole lot of hope.