The result may not have been important but the circumstances by which it came about will be. England’s defeat to Ukraine on Saturday evening ruined their 100 percent World Cup qualification record but head coach Fabio Capello is sure to have more pressing concerns about his goalkeeping situation.
In rushing out to bring down Ukraine’s Artem Milevsky in the penalty area, Robert Green became the first England goalkeeper to be sent off in an international fixture. Mitigated by Rio Ferdinand’s failure to deal with the forward’s run, the West Ham stopper nevertheless undid the faultless work of his previous five appearances for the national side.
Such mistakes are better made now than at the World Cup but that they happen at all is what is most alarming. His replacement, David James, went on to prove why many deem him to be the true number one but at nearly 40, it is an indictment of the standard of English goalkeepers that none have yet to mount a sustainable challenge to him.
Only six of the Premier League’s first choice goalkeepers are English, with all but one of those playing for sides currently in the bottom half of the table. Indeed, James and Green play for the bottom two, Portsmouth and West Ham (1.86 and 7.2 respectively to be relegated).
Meanwhile, the odd one out, Ben Foster, has been culpable for several goals that Manchester United have conceded this season and is certain to be replaced by Old Trafford first-choice, Edwin Van Der Sar, upon the Dutchman’s return from injury. Tipped to be the long-term incumbent, Foster’s confidence has been shattered in recent weeks but how much self-belief is any contender likely to get fishing the ball out of the net several times a week because of a sub-standard defence in front of him?
In an era when England has produced world class footballers in all other areas of the field, that the traditionally well-stocked goalkeeping section is now devoid of real ability is puzzling. From Gordon Banks to Peter Shilton to David Seaman, there’s historically been an individual who could be relied upon in times of need. A dominant character in the last line of defence cannot be underestimated. Peter Schmeichel, arguably the best ever, could claim to have won many a game for Manchester United as they secured league titles, cups and a Champions League trophy.
A look to the current World Cup and European Championship winners also reveals an authoritative presence patrolling the penalty box. Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon is rated as the best around today and it’s hard to remember a significant blunder from the Juventus man.
Spain’s Iker Casillas, meanwhile, is regularly kept busy by the persistently defective Real Madrid defence and is surely worth a handful of points to his club each season. Inter’s Julio Cesar has overseen four straight Serie A titles and with only 9 goals conceded in sixteen World Cup qualifiers for Brazil, it’s no surprise the five-time winners are 5.7 favourites to win a sixth in 2010.
Defensive confidence always starts with the man at the rear. A defender with the utmost faith in the ability of his goalkeeper will be afforded the freedom to concentrate on his own game, safe in the knowledge that if he makes a mistake himself, the team-mate behind is more than likely to bail him out of trouble. With most encounters at the business end of international tournaments tending to be tight, tactical affairs, a single mistake is all it can take to lose a game so the ability of a goalkeeper to remain alert and focused is paramount.
David James may be the best of a less than inspiring bunch but his inclination to switch off at key moments heightens anxiety. It cannot help him or those competing with him for a place that they ply their trade in the nether regions of the Premier League and are unexposed to the best European talent outside of England in the Champions League.
With nearly all of England’s rivals in South Africa boasting goalkeepers who play among Europe’s elite, Fabio Capello will travel to the World Cup with a very significant disadvantage that even he is powerless to rectify.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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