Archive for July 14th, 2018


Lack of control costs England and Japan

England and Japan both performed beyond expectations at the World Cup, but a lack of composure at key times ultimately prevented them from leaving even bigger marks on the competition… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, Sunday 15th July, 2018

Both Japan and England exited the World Cup after some late heartbreak, and aside from that there were plenty of other similarities in the two teams’ showings over the past few weeks in Russia.

The Samurai Blue and the Three Lions both exceeded expectations in progressing to the Round of 16 and semi-finals, respectively, both played some stirring football at times, and both gave their fans back home plenty to celebrate as they ventured into the latter stages of the competition.

However, it was ultimately an inability to manage the flow of the game and cope when put under concerted spells of pressure that did for each side, meaning both left the tournament with plenty of regrets over what might have been.

On Wednesday, England started sensationally against a slightly nervous-looking Croatia in Moscow, going 1-0 up in just the fifth minute after a wonderful Kieran Trippier free kick before threatening on several other occasions. Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard were guilty of missing the best chances though, offering encouragement to Croatia by enabling them to go in with just the one-goal deficit at half time.

Zlatko Dalic’s side gratefully seized upon that encouragement after the break, wrestling control of proceedings from the second half on and slipping steadily into the slick, hypnotic football that can be so pleasing on the eye and so difficult to halt.

Croatia had played 120 minutes plus penalties in both the Round of 16 and quarter-finals but it was England who looked to be running out of steam as the game wore on, with Gareth Southgate’s men struggling to keep hold of the ball or fashion anything approaching a goal-scoring chance going forwards.

While Croatia rode out their tricky spell on the ropes in the first half by sticking to their possession-based approach and trusting in their ability to look after the ball and create space, England lost their composure and reverted to type, frantically hacking balls up into the Croatia half and hoping that Kane – so expertly marshaled by Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida – could somehow get them out of jail.

That always looked like a tall order, however, and the lack of a player in midfield to get on the ball and make something happen meant the Three Lions had no real alternative to their heavy reliance on set pieces.

“The all-round perception was that this is a new-look England who have changed their ways of punting long balls upfield, but when we pressed them it turned out they haven’t,” Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko said.

That was a fair summary of England’s shortcomings on the night, with Trippier’s opener the ninth of their 12 goals in Russia to come from a dead-ball situation – with another of their three from open play Dele Alli’s header from a deep cross to make it 2-0 in the quarter-final against Sweden.

Football Channel, 14th July, 2018

There was certainly more subtlety to some of the team’s play on their route to the semi-finals than those statistics suggest, but in the end there was a nagging feeling that they just lacked the quality and composure in possession of their opponents at the Luzhniki Stadium, and you half expected to see Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch being thrown on at the death as the team grew increasingly desperate and direct.

Ultimately Trippier’s goal was the only effort England managed to land on target over the 120 minutes of the semi-final (compared with Croatia’s seven), and the hurried nature of the team’s late play only served to gift the ball back to Luka Modric and co., who were more than happy to look after it and carve through an increasingly flustered defence. Mario Mandzukic’s winner shattered the dreams of millions of England fans but it had been coming and was richly deserved.

While losing in the semi-final is often perceived as the most painful way to be eliminated from a competition, Japan’s demise was perhaps even harder to take, coming with the last meaningful kick of one of the games of the tournament against Belgium, and just moments after Keisuke Honda had almost decided things in the Samurai Blue’s favour with a wicked free kick.

Like England Japan had also been ahead, establishing a scarcely-believable 2-0 lead inside seven incredible minutes at the start of the second half courtesy of Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui’s strikes, but like England Akira Nishino’s men failed to maintain control of proceedings once in the ascendancy, offering their opponents a route back into the game and unable to stem the flow of the tide once it had turned against them.

It is these narrow margins that separate teams at the very highest level, and the two sides who will battle it out to be crowned world champions on Sunday have shown time and again throughout this competition that they understand and are able to contend with the ebb and flow of the game.

Croatia have conceded first in all three of their knockout ties in Russia but had the wherewithal to emerge victorious from each, while France have remained equally as unflustered as they weathered a brief Argentina storm to come back from 2-1 down in the Round of 16 before ruthlessly disposing of Uruguay and Belgium with clinical and efficient showings in each subsequent round.

Whichever lifts the famous trophy in Moscow will be a deserved champion of an exceptional tournament, and the likes of Japan and England would do well to learn from them over the coming years.

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July 2018