Loss exposes England's faults

JAMES LAWTON for QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:28 PM ET

BLOEMFONTEIN -- We should have technology in football 10 years into the 21st century, as we have running water and antibiotics.

It may also be true that if England hadn't suffered so outrageously from the lack of it here yesterday Germany, a new, young Germany, may not have finished quite so cruelly superior.

But if England face its own reality, rather than dwell too heavily on the distortion of it imposed when an equalizing goal of absolute legality was denied them, they will have to take home from the World Cup something more than a massive sense of grievance.

They will have to admit that this wasn't a defeat but an undressing, a statement about how some teams evolve and grow strong in the process and others just slip into a massive time warp.

This is what happened to the remnants of the mythical Golden Generation which was supposed to conquer the world with players such as David Beckham and Michael Owen.

The 4-1 defeat can be larded with sympathy, but in the end there was no avoiding the fact that English football has been cruelly exposed here these last few weeks.

Those of us who thought that in the last of their talent they might just have a little too much for an unformed Germany, and enough at least to carry them into the quarter-final in Cape Town more in hope than expectation, were disabused of the instinct, just about as soon as it took young German players such as Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil to thread together a game of brilliant movement and a fine understanding of available space.

Yes, the lack of measures to prevent the kind of outrage which came when Frank Lampard's shot smacked against the underside of the cross-bar and land at least two feet over the line is sickening and, who knows, because football can be a game of such curious ebb and flow, it may well have helped to shape the result.

England may have built some serious momentum on the impact of two goals in two minutes but when Uruguayan linesman Mauricio Espinosa failed to react, leaving his compatriot and referee Jorge Larrionda to gasp "Oh, my God" when he saw film at halftime -- the regime of England coach Fabio Capello had entered its most critical phase.

No doubt it will be assailed from many quarters now, and when all is said it seems improbable in the extreme that he will decide to soldier on in the face of disaster. But in the raging and recrimination it will surely be folly not to recognize a truth beyond the power of the most brilliant coach.

It is that Capello left no player in England who might have significantly affected this latest example of German football to remake itself into a formidable force every four years. And that those he brought, whether it was because we grossly over-estimated their ability, or as Franz Beckenbauer has been suggesting so strongly these past few days that they were indeed burned out from too much football, simply were not equal to the challenge.

Frank Lampard fought the realities exploding around his head with most resilience. He smashed a free kick against the cross bar and had his goal been allowed he might have been emboldened to extend the authority of his performance under the heaviest of pressure. As it was, the captain Steven Gerrard lapsed into terminal futility and the nightmare of Wayne Rooney simply gathered pace.

England's defence, robbed of more poise than was feared when Rio Ferdinand was cut down before the tournament, was simply dismantled before our eyes. Matthew Upson, almost contemptuously bypassed when German veteran Miroslav Klose opened the scoring, scored a classic set piece goal but it could not disguise the fact that when Germany played at their most coherently the latest collision between the nations was increasingly a grotesque mismatch.

Capello said that there are so many things to consider for the future and if the mistake of the referee was "important" it was also probably true that his players came here a "little tired."

There were times, and not only at the end of an increasingly one-sided contest, when they looked more than that. They looked shot through and bewildered and in the ensuing inquest some extremely hard questions have to be asked.

Not just about a World Cup performance so bad we have to go to 1950 and the humiliating defeat in Brazil to the part-timers and amateurs of the United States for a comparison, but the very foundations of our national game.

English football boasts of the richest, most glamorous league in the world but there was little indication of benefit to the team which found the challenge here so far beyond them. English football lacks a national training centre for the pick of its young players and scarcely 40% of them get the chance to develop at the top of their own league.

These are the kind of issues which demand attention today, perhaps even to the point of a government inquiry into the perilous finances of the leading clubs and their demonstrable inability to produce outstanding players for the national team.

Meanwhile, the world's ruling body, FIFA, has another reason to re-examine its policy of banning technology from the game that has now suffered two major embarrassments pointing to the absolute folly of the ban.

France arrived here to compete, or at least make up the numbers, after the flagrant hand-ball cheating of Thierry Henry in a qualifying game against the Republic of Ireland in Paris. Yesterday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter watched stony-faced as reality was stood on its head when Lampard's goal was denied.

This, though, was a matter for world football and its continued credibility. For England, there was the pain of being victims but also a terrible fact that could not be ignored.

It was that they were leaving the World Cup, more than anything, for the most basic of reasons. They were simply not good enough.

James Lawton writes for The Independent in the U.K.


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