||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Robben plays party pooper
John Brewin, Wembley
Long to reign over us? Stuart Pearce's grasping of the England nettle in his country's hour of need has drawn both admirers and detractors, but any comfort in his tenure being extended was always likely to hinge on a positive result.
Wanting the job will not be enough. Pre-match statements of intent can only fade into the shadow of defeat. Now, the clamour for Harry Redknapp will grow as a result of a victory from a clinical Dutch team, for whom anything beyond second gear was not required, even when England looked to have fought back for a 2-2 draw.
Should Redknapp not be available, and there are several factors that stand in his way, Pearce has not altered his offer to step into the breach. "I didn't score, I didn't keep a clean sheet," he demurred, painting himself as a willing stopgap already in a position to help out. "I didn't see it as a big night for me; I am not auditioning for anything."
Fabio Capello found that what he thought was a lucrative part-time job ended up as a full-time pain. Pearce, the confirmed patriot with an England flagpole outside his house, is prepared to take whatever hurt comes his way if England need a coach for Euro 2012. "I feel as though I'd be confident because of the experience I have as an international player and coach," he said. "All I am doing is buying them time if they haven't got someone else to do the job full-time."
Dependent on negotiations and the preferences of a four-man FA select committee, his detail may last more than one solitary match. If so, he has already signalled that he is a man ready to take decisions. Anointing Scott Parker as England captain had made waves from the moment it escaped as a lunchtime rumour.
The passing over of Steven Gerrard drew headlines and outrage but Pearce had chosen a man in his own image. When Jose Mourinho was Chelsea manager he once dared his players to give their own team-talks, and declared that Parker, a bit-part player, was the best orator of all. And then there were the rumours that Parker, not even captain at Upton Park, had once stepped in for Avram Grant to deliver a Churchillian speech as West Ham ailed last season. "He's very well respected within the group, and he's an extremely unselfish player," Pearce, a former England captain himself, said.
While Parker was England fans' player of the year for 2011, Gerrard had not played a single minute for his country. He has now managed just 30 in 2012, having played 120 minutes and endured penalties at this same ground on Sunday. His removal was precautionary, as he was "feeling a bit tight". His manner prior to exit had been tentative and less energetic than his team-mates.
Talk that Gerrard may cash in his international chips following Euro 2012 may also have been in Pearce's thinking. If so, it further signalled a man with an unselfish eye on England's future. A "tinkering" with England's pre-tournament training camp has also been highlighted. With three Under-21 finals to his name, of admittedly varying success, Pearce does indeed have tournament experience to his name. Yet the Dutch, a team who drip with experience of yet grander occasions, exposed the clear top-level inexperience of both England coach and players.
"A little bit of know-how and nous might have changed the game," Pearce said, suggesting a foul by Mark van Bommel in midfield when England were on a first-half break was the type of "game management" his young charges lacked, though his own midfield trio in Parker, Gareth Barry and Gerrard are surely all experienced enough to commit such cynicism.
Before the dyke was broken in the 57th minute, the new captain had been influential, his tackling often preventing Netherlands picking the lock, his availability in front of the defence offering options. Pearce had spoken of being a manager with few miles on the clock; he is older than Mourinho yet has only 160 or so first-class games to his name. Parker, meanwhile, is eight months older than Gerrard, but lightly raced at ten caps, and with a probable desire to play beyond Brazil in 2014. Should a more permanent arrangement occur then there is a complementary quality to this pairing of coach and captain.
Pearce had largely called on a set of younger players he has worked with since joining the England set-up in 2007. While somewhat punchless and wasteful, they had exhibited a comfort with each other right until the stuffing was knocked out of them by two quickfire Dutch second-half goals.
Arjen Robben's old-man visage masks a player as dangerous as any in the game. Granted space when Parker was caught out upfield, and assisted by an excellent bissecting run from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar that confused an outnumbered defence, Robben drilled home having run the half the length of the pitch. Two minutes later, Huntelaar's bravery allowed him to head home; a quickfire double looked to have ended the contest.
Huntelaar left the field looking short of a few teeth, his blood staining the pitch, though it was England's Chris Smalling who came off worse. His prone figure was stretchered from the pitch, the concern about the pair rendering the second goal almost a footnote, barely celebrated amid the gore.
England's comeback to parity was unexpected, even if the Dutch had lost poise with altered personnel in defence. Gary Cahill and Ashley Young's goals lifted spirits, only for Robben to be the killer once more. Leighton Baines had made the mistake of offering him a left-foot shot, another error to be seized upon when facing the best.
"Robben is a great player and he always was," said Van Marwijk, a manager who ought to be confident in his team's ability to counterattack their way to continental success.
"I don't think beyond the Euros I have the experience for the job," Pearce said in contrast. "The full-time manager of England certainly isn't me."
Pearce's words reflected that it is not just England's defending that is uncertain. His national pride alone will not be enough to rescue them should he be called upon in his country's hour of need. If expectations were low before, his non-audition will have done little to lift them.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Arjen Robben. Playing through the pain barrier of a groin problem that has all but ruined his season at Bayern Munich, Robben showed why he can be as destructive a player as any in world football. His first goal saw him glide across the turf, his second a reminder that a defender should never offer an opportunity to use his left foot.
ENGLAND VERDICT: There were promising signs and especially in the first half, but Pearce was correct in saying that situations were not taken advantage of. Danny Welbeck needs to add goal power to his obvious attributes and Daniel Sturridge, ludicrously given the sponsors' award for man of the match, missed a sitter. Defending, especially against the Dutch counter, reminded chillingly of England's defeat to Germany in the last World Cup.
NETHERLANDS VERDICT: Van Marwijk was forced to deny to a rather heated Dutch journalist that his team had played well, when in fact they had supplied the type of efficient performance that that they showed off in the group stages in South Africa and will expect in Ukraine. All three goals were clinical, and Van Marwijk put the two conceded down to a defensive reshuffle. They will go far at Euro 2012.