This appears in the Monday, June 16, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.
Ramblings of a Three Lions fan
by rick olivares photo by reuters
When I was buying my England jersey (with Steven Gerrard’s name and number at the back) at Goal at 313 Somerset in Singapore two weeks ago, this other store patron asked, “England? Why?”
Maybe it’s because I’ve rooted for Liverpool almost my entire life. Maybe it’s because England invented the game. Maybe it’s because I watch the Premier League a lot. Maybe because they’ve become the underdog who can’t buy a break?
Not too many believed The Three Lions would beat the Azzurri to open Group D play of the 2014 World Cup. The memory of the Euro 2012 quarterfinals was perhaps on most people’s minds. In that match, England struggled to gain possession; when they did, they gave away cheap passes. But England’s defense held that is until the penalty shootout where Gianlugi Buffon parried away two spot kicks as Italy booked a quarterfinals match with Germany.
Then as it is now, it is the same result… a 2-1 win for the Italians.
England played much better. They looked more threatening, had more shots on goal as well as corners. They had 47% possession of the ball as compared to the poor 36% they controlled in Kyiv.
They generally did so much better except for one thing… contain Andrea Pirlo.
When Zinedine Zidane hung up his boots after the 2006 World Cup, the title to the best playmaker in the world went to Pirlo (well, Italy did win that title over France).
Is there anyone more imperious in the midfield? Some will point to Spain and Barcelona’s Xavi. Maybe. But no one picks apart opposing defenses better than 36-year old Pirlo.
Against the English, Pirlo completed 103 of 112 passes for a 92% accuracy rate. While somewhat checked from slipping through balls or chips over the defense in the manner he did in Kyiv, the playmaker showed he is every bit as capable of producing magic given the circumstance.
His excellent dummy sent Danny Welbeck and the England defense one way giving Claudio Marchisio so much open space to fire away at Joe Hart. Goal, Italy.
Then a late game free kick completely fooled Hart as the ball cleared the England wall towards the right then swung left. Time and again, the crossbar has saved many a goal. Joe Hart no doubt should thank the crossbar, the upright, and Phil Jagielka from saving what should have been three more goals. Even if Pirlo’s free kick didn’t go in, that’s twice he’s completely fooled Hart. The sumptuous Panenka in the Euros comes to mind.
I have only now realized that what was supposed to be my reciting sorrowful mysteries regarding England has instead turned into a celebration of Andrea Pirlo.
I guess it beats talking about the travails of Wayne Rooney who has been as useful as a Band-Aid on a leaking pipe.
In his third World Cup finals, he has yet to find the back of the net or even chalk up an assist. But he finally notched the latter when his cross to a cutting Daniel Sturridge provided a stunning response to the Marchisio opener. However, for a man of his talent, promise, supposed worth, hype, and pay, it is not much especially when England needed some magic of their own to counter Pirlo.
Maybe it was hoped that playing behind Sturridge and alongside Welbeck and Raheem Sterling in England’s 2-4-3-1 formation, he’d be play better. There was no pressure for England after all. And Rooney did complete 28 of 35 passes but he needed to be more attack-minded and not the subject of a missing persons report.
With England desperately chasing a second goal to draw level, there was an opportunity for a corner. Rooney took it and sent an absolutely dreadful corner kick that only threatened the fans in the stands. Offered a free kick from a dangerous spot just outside the box minutes later, Steven Gerrard waved off Rooney to take one that could have gone in but had a little too much English on it as it sailed over the crossbar.
In contrast, Sterling was impressive. “Happy Feet” as the analyst called him, in reference to the animated film character. And I wonder if it hurt Rooney to play behind the forward position instead of his cherished top of the line slot. But he should feel glad to be a part of this team that doesn’t have too many World Cup veterans.
Nevertheless, there’s promise in this England side that has gotten younger but has talent. The introduction of Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana, and Ross Barkley.
Promise. I think I have heard that time and again ever since Gazza sobbed that night in Turin against Germany. The loss is still a painful one for both England and the faithful as they could have not only equalized but even won the game if the finishing were much better.
Oh, to be a Three Lions fan.
On to the next game (Uruguay and the very familiar Luis Suarez).