England v. Ecuador
Pot of coffee. Check. England mug. Check. England jersey. Check – although it’s slightly more snug than it was for the 2002 tournament. Note to self: when asked, describe this effect as “Ronaldoesque.”
Three quarters of this Stuttgart stadium is filled with white-shirted Englishmen.
0 minutes. I don’t know much about the Ecuadorian side, other than Valencia. But I’m not alone. We’re not even at kick-off and the commentator has run out of things to say about the country – he’s reciting a list of their major exports (bananas, cocoa).
4: Already there’s skepticism that Rooney’s not suited for his role today heading up the attack. But England are showing some life up front, and Ecuador are managing little more than clumsy tackles.
It’s a steamy day today. A lot of creepy-crawly things around us.
9: A long-ball to Rooney—but the keeper’s to it first. The kid taps hands with the South American defender who was back. Hopefully his good mood holds: England can’t afford to have their lone attacker carded.
10: A stunning collapse by the English defence: the ball glances off Terry’s head, and Tonorio is in alone on goal. A late lunge by Cole diverts the strike onto the crossbar. I’m filled with a combination of relief and terror, a typical mix for an England fan.
The last thing England would want in this heat is extra time.
Typical English optimism: we’re only 15 minutes into a scoreless match, and the mind is running ahead to contemplate the possibility of a draw.
19: Terry has trouble from a high ball again, and his careless boot draws blood from Tenorio, a card from the official, and a free kick in a dangerous position. It comes to nothing, but sets an ominous tone: will the storyline for this match hinge on an English blunder?
20: A dead ball for Beckham, who ignores the wall in favour of Gerrard at the far side; a subsequent cross looks dangerous, but is kicked away.
36: Tonorio’s booked for a challenge on Terry. This may be the best news the defender could get – the striker will need to be a bit more cautious.
England are still devoid at front. They are lacking a cutting edge.
42: This comment after a poor service to Rooney; and it’s distressingly true. But most of the blame rests with the service rather than the striker.
44: Hargreaves is writhing in pain on the sidelines. Ferdinand and Robinson collide leaping for the ball. Ecuador sails in corners from both sides. The momentum is all wrong.
45+2: England escape the first half: which is how they should be thinking about it. They are lucky not to be down a goal. I’d look for Terry to come off in the second half, and possibly Carrick. Neither have looked impressive.
We continue to be bombarded by nasty little creatures in the box…it’s the warm weather that brings them out.
47: We’re informed that Rooney’s girlfriend has gifted him with a £177,000 car – while the Ecuadorans will win $12,000 if they take home the cup. Who’s more motivated?
49: English corner from the right side. Nothing. But England returns to the attack and a flip-on of the ball produces a dangerous low cross. They are beginning to show their potential.
53: Ecuador’s defence are swarming like those creatures in the press-box. They’re physical, they play close, and they deserve credit for stifling the English attack. The commentary has now turned to reciting England’s list of penalty-shootout losses: an air of fatalism is emerging.
55: Two defenders block Rooney in the box as he lunges for the ball. He’s beginning to look frustrated at the coverage on him – but if two or three defenders are on him, someone else must be free. Rooney should start looking for the cross rather than the strike.
60: Another Beckham kick, from about 40 yards. It curls left and looks to be going wide, but rifles into the low corner of the net, at the limit of the keeper’s reach. England 1, Ecuador 0
Ecuador’s resistance is broken at last.
62: Lampard misses another strike from the top of the box. England’s best player coming into the tournament has still not scored. Crouch, who was warming, has been told to sit down. England will apparently look to hold the lead for 30 minutes.
65: Lampard gets the ball on a giveaway, but his confidence shattered, he elects to pass and nothing comes of it.
70: Ecuador has made two substitutions, including one for “the little Devil.” Tonorio is receiving “the treatment” on the sidelines after slipping in England’s end. The treatment normally consists of a spray from the magic aerosol can, and a quick recovery, but for once the player’s not responding.
72: Lampard again! Rooney slips him the ball near the penalty spot, and his sliding strike sails 40 feet over the net.
He does not know what’s going on. It’s like there’s a demon here.
75: England is now attacking fluidly, as Ecuador’s play opens up space.
76: Joe Cole comes off for Jamie Carragher. 14 minutes to go.
78: Robinson’s carded for time-wasting. Some of the Belgian official’s decisions are suspect, but none have changed the result.
82: Carragher is now carded for time-wasting. The English are risking a great deal.
83: Robinson makes an uncomfortable dive for the ball, then hurls it out of play because he’s injured. (To lie there at this point risks a second card.)
87: England brings on Aaron Lennon for the final minutes. Beckham comes off to a grand ovation, and a well-deserved rest. His defensive play this match was well above his usual standard.
89: Lennon’s in against one defender, and draws a corner; a free kick follows from near the right corner. Three minutes of injury time are added.
They’ve so enjoyed themselves here. They’ve gone further than they expected.
Those are words no one wants to hear, even when they’re true.
90+1: Downey comes on for Gerrard. What the point of this is, I don’t know.
90+3: It’s over.
Analysis: A win is a win, but the English side remains unconvincing. The lesson for the Dutch/Portugese is that the English attack can be stifled by double-teaming Rooney, and tackling aggressively in the midfield. Hardly a unique prescription, but one that very nearly gave Ecuador an upset win. Lampard desperately needs a goal if he’s going to regain his confidence and form, because Rooney alone is not enough, and the team needs more than 4 shots on goal in a match.