England End Their ‘Annus Horribilis’

Only a couple of weeks until Christmas: then we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2011 and hoping that – in football terms at least – England’s performances will be better than they were in 2010. Guest blogger Richard Smith looks back at 2010 – a memorable year for all the wrong reasons.

There will be plenty of England fans happy to see the end of 2010, which really has been an ‘annus horribilis’ for them, for manager, Fabio Capello and his England squad, who of course ended their year with a Wembley defeat against a rejuvenated and possibly resurgent France.

That defeat followed the goalless draw against Montenegro, who now tops the Euro 2012 Group G table ahead of England and could seriously jeopardise the England chances of automatic qualification in the Autumn of 2011.

The year started of course on a much more optimistic note with the England team having already safely negotiated their qualifying group to qualify for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa. An excellent 3-1 win over Egypt in March, who had just been crowned African Nations Champions, saw the team in great form, despite going a goal down in the first half. Two second half goals from Peter Crouch and one from Shaun Wright-Phillips, rescued the situation and England looked good value for their win.

They followed that up with another 3-1 victory, this time over fellow World Cup hopefuls, Mexico, in May with Crouch getting on the scoresheet once again with further goals coming from defenders, Ledley King and Glen Johnson. Confidence clearly ran high with the World Cup just over two weeks or so away.

A trip to Austria was the next stop, where they played an exhibition/friendly against Japan, winning narrowly by just 2-1, thanks to two own goals. It was a poor performance overall and extremely untimely being their last match before coming up against the USA in their opening World Cup fixture.

We all of course know what happened in that match, England skipper Steven Gerrard scored ‘early doors’ but things went downhill rapidly from thereon. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but worse followed as they were also held 0-0 by rank World Cup outsiders, Algeria which left them needing to win their final match against Slovenia in order to qualify for the Knock Out stages.

In one of the tensest games in the World Cup, England hung on by a thread to win 1-0 after going into an early lead with a goal scored by the lively Jermaine Defoe. It was a mind numbing performance, which met with a scathing media and fan reaction, with many calling for the head of Capello even at that stage. The fact that England failed to win the group meant that they would face old rivals, Germany in the last 16, who were already proving their World Cup pedigree by winning their group.

The match of course was a disaster for England, losing 1-4 being forced home from the tournament early to huge derision and for many of the players as well as the manager uncertain futures in international football.

The back of a bus

The World Cup campaign was not helped by the John Terry scandal earlier in the season, which eventually cost him the captaincy and worsened when a last minute injury to replacement captain, Rio Ferdinand ruled him out of the tournament altogether. Steven Gerrard was then given the armband, somewhat onerously as Terry had kept his place in the team and who, on more than one occasion, became the team’s spokesman. This led to speculation concerning team morale which Capello did his utmost to deny.

Whatever the reason, the World Cup dream turned into the nightmare many had feared it would, but for reasons of financial prudence, Capello kept his job and began to rebuild the team ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

After defeating Hungary by 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley, the England team, put on one of their best ever performances under Capello to defeat Bulgaria by 4-0 in their opening qualifier, with Defoe superb, scoring his first England hat trick. Newcomer, Adam Johnson of Manchester City also made the score sheet.

A follow up qualifying win was efficiently earned against Switzerland in Basel by 3-1, goals this time being scored by Wayne Rooney, Adam Johnson and Darren Bent. England looked a very solid team again and looked at this point certain to win the group. However, then came the Montenegro debacle, followed by the friendly defeat by France and now England must wait until March to redeem the situation in what could be an explosive match at the Millennium Stadium against Wales.

Wales will be the first opponents of 2011 and will be no pushovers on home soil but if England are to silence their critics after a nothing short of disastrous past 12 months then a win together with a good performance is essential as the next 12 months could well prove pivotal for the future of the England football team.

UPDATE: First England fixture of 2011 will be against Denmark in Copenhagen on Wednesday 9th February 2011.

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