Cyprus Cup Preview: England’s Twilight Year

The 2012 Cyprus Cup kicks off today. Sylvain Jamet is a Frenchman living in England and has keen insight into both teams. Here he previews the two group rivals.

 

Few will forget England’s ill-fated penalty-kick shootout against France in the World Cup quarterfinals. Seven months have gone by since the Three Lions’ nail-biting exit from the tournament. Here’s a recap of what’s happened since.

 

In Euro 2013 qualifiers, England trails the Netherlands by five points with a game in hand. England dropped two points in Serbia with a 2-2 draw away despite being 2-0 up at one point. In the head-to-head away game, England came away with a creditable and fair draw despite missing a penalty in the process. That means winning all the remaining games will ensure direct qualification to the tournament, therefore avoiding the dreaded play-offs. In case the teams are tied, head-to-head results will be used as the decider. A win against Holland will probably be enough if England don’t let points slip away against the weaker teams.

Something that has not changed is the personnel. It is clear for everyone that the old generation is going for one last challenge at home: the 2012 Summer Olympics. That could explain why no one has retired since the World Cup.

 

There isn’t a defined starting XI due to injuries, but the system is the same as before: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Karen Bardsley is the current choice after overtaking Rachel Brown prior to the World Cup. Siobhan Chamberlain has seemingly become the the number two, as Brown has missed a fair bit of the 2011 campaign through injury.

Right-back: Alex Scott is the number one and unchallenged choice.

Center-backs: Casey Stoney is the current captain and therefore first on the team sheet. Sophie Bradley has cemented her place in Faye White’s absence. The Arsenal captain made her comeback last Tuesday against Nottingham Forest and there is no doubt the time-tested duo will soon be reunited.

Left-back: Rachel Unitt is the current choice, as her main competitor Claire Rafferty is coming back from a long-term injury.

Center midfield: Fara Williams is automatic first-choice despite average club and country performances last year due to lack of fitness. Jill Scott is England’s current form player and has played consistently well for two seasons. Her versatility also means she can also play as a second striker.

Attacking midfielder: Karen Carney has been used in this position recently due to Kelly Smith’s injuries but Smith will likely regain her spot when available.

Right wing: Jessica Clarke is the number one choice nowadays. As mentioned above, main competitor Carney is playing at the number 10 for the moment.

Center forward: First choice is Ellen White who has earned it through hard work and goal scoring skills. Eniola Aluko is second choice, despite spotty form. Birmingham City striker Rachel Williams is third choice. Fourth choice Natasha Dowie is a different type of center forward. She is not as fast as the others at the position but can play with her back to goal, win headers, and bring other players into the game with her passes.

Left wing: Rachel Yankey is the number one choice but is currently injured so Sue Smith has been called in to take her place.

 

In terms of game plan, England is a team that likes to play with space in front of it, mainly for two reasons:

The forwards are all fast and direct players. It suits them to be able to attack the space and defenders. They can all beat defenders or get in behind the defense with a ball from behind. England does not really use slow build-up play to prepare attacks, instead opting for a more head-on approach. There are also some excellent passers in midfield such as Fara Williams and Karen Carney.

Three of four defenders are not the fastest, so pressing and defending high against forwards with pace is not a viable option. Compact defending deep behind the halfway line will be key.

Overall, a fit England team is very difficult to beat. Hope Powell’s side is well-organized, diligent on the defensive side, and has lightning quick forwards who can cause major havoc on the break. In term of attacking football, goals rarely come from slow, built-up attacks. They are more likely to arrive with quick bursts from England’s skilled attackers.

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