Thursday, August 13, 2009

Netherlands v England: An assessment

It's been some time since I last posted, but let's just forget about that and get right down to business.

England claimed a creditable 2-2 draw today in Amsterdam after some horrible defending gifted the Dutch two goals in the first half. While there was quite a bit to note from both sides on the technical level, which is why I watched with a pen and pad ready, both the English and Dutch fans at the Amsterdam ArenA last night can be forgiven for not being any closer to an idea of how their teams will fare in South Africa come June.

1. David Beckham is a good footballer, but one suspects that he's a bit of a luxury to be a whole 1/11th of a side challenging for a World Cup. There's no doubting he's one of England's best players even now, but I think a bit more courage could be shown over the next few months to find a permanent option down England's right flank. Perhaps the Premier League season will enlighten us and provide Fabio Capello food for thought? Maybe Jermaine Pennant, perhaps England's only footballer playing abroad, will shine at Real Zaragoza (he loves Spain's 13% 'non-domiciled' tax rate) and get his chance?

2. The full-back play was generally average, with one exception. Glen Johnson looked all right at best, and we've come to expect much more in an attacking sense from Ashley Cole that he gets 6/10 from me when he simply defends. Johnny Heintinga is nothing special on a good day, and faced against Ashley Young in the first half he was unadventurous. However, Edson Braafheid, the latest Dutch footballer from the Surinamese production line, looked very good at left-back as he did under Steve McLaren at FC Twente and looks like a very good purchase for Bayern Munich. Expect to see much more of the short yet solid full-back.

3. Rafael van der Vaart produced a fine display playing behind the main striker as part of the attacking three in midfield (perhaps out of romanticism, news websites listed the Netherlands' squad as 4-3-3, but in reality they're still playing Marco van Basten's much-maligned "un-Dutch" 4-2-3-1). He has a point to prove to his employers in the Spanish capital, who haven't even bothered giving the man a squad number for the coming season.

4. Is this the end of the road for Emile Heskey? While he seems to have formed a good relationship with Wayne Rooney, we all know that Heskey had a near-telepathic relationship with Michael Owen. Depending how the upcoming season goes, you may see West Ham's Carlton Cole leapfrog the ageing and slightly out-of-form Villa man for a World Cup starting berth, especially as Owen is out of the England picture for good.

5. Neither team is likely to win the World Cup in South Africa next year, that's just the way it is. England lack a certain guile at times, even though they are now more rigourously coached tactically than at any time since the late 1980s. And the players at Capello's disposal are, with few exceptions, not every exceptional. The Netherlands have a strong footballing culture (but a weak domestic league) yet players like AZ Alkmaar's Stijn Schaars, while impressive at times in his passing and decision-making tonight, and certainly improving, can't provide that trophy-winning je ne sais quoi.

Then again, it was just 95mins of useless friendly, wasn't it?

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