Wayne Rooney has been at the centre of a ‘tussle’ between England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and Manchester United. While club coach Alex Ferguson has insisted that the striker’s return from injury should not be rushed, Eriksson has maintained he would have the final say on the matter.
So, when England were struggling to penetrate a heavily-guarded Trinidad and Tobago fortress on Thursday, with the ageing Michael Owen and the tall Peter Crouch being rendered ineffective on the ground and in the air, Eriksson had to fall back on his favourite striker. His double-substitution in the 58th minute ' Rooney replacing Owen and Aaron Lennon coming in place of defender Jammie Carragher ' changed the game dramatically.
Rooney’s arrival gave the English attack a new dimension and made it faster. More significantly, the tempo of the English team underwent a sea-change.
Rooney’s presence had a psychological effect on the opponents as his speed, vision and running in the gaps between defenders provided the English team what it was missing in the first half.
He may not have scored, but Rooney drew the defenders’ attention towards him, thereby helping his teammates take advantage of open spaces.
Thus Crouch made amends of his atrocious first-half miss by heading home following a trademark David Beckham cross from the right in the 83rd minute. Gerrard made the win more convincing with a thunderous left-footer from about 30 yards, in injury time.
The win helped England qualify for the second round, but they need to raise their game by a few notches and maintain the tempo with which they played the 20-25 minutes of the match against Trinidad and Tobago, if they dream of proceeding further.
A defensive-minded Trinidad and Tobago helped England dominate proceedings, but the latter were sans ideas till Rooney’s arrival. Eriksson’s side lost one plot after another soon after advancing to the rival half-line and, with the midfield not intent on shifting gears, the World Cup debutants had no problems thwarting the English efforts.
I want to see Beckham more involved as captain when the chips are down. In the first half, for instance, he seemed to have taken a chair and stationed himself on the right side ' never coming forward to help the strikers or snatching the ball himself. Was he only there for taking free-kicks and corners' He is a star and should take the lead in inspiring the team.
His contribution in the first half was a solitary good cross, which found Crouch absolutely in the clear. All that the tall striker needed was just to stop the ball and push it in. Instead, he volleyed it wide. The English captain’s free-kicks were also ineffective.
Eriksson rightly put faith in Crouch when he let Owen go, because of his tall stature.
In modern football, wing-play is a key part of every coach’s strategy and therefore, tall strikers are always welcome. And the coach was proved right in the end. That 83rd-minute effort was Crouch and Becks’ only meaningful contribution in the match.
Gerrard’s strike was, however, sheer individual brilliance. He scored two goals in similar fashion in the FA Cup final against West Ham, whose goalkeeper was Hislop. The Liverpool midfielder proved to be the Trinidad and Tobago custodian’s nemesis once again.