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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Where it went wrong for England

By Jonathan Stevenson

The reality of England's abysmal self-destruction in Russia is beginning to hit home.

England's stand-in captain Steven Gerrard trudges off the pitch in Moscow
Gerrard looks unlikely to be able to showcase his skills at Euro 2008

After Scotland's tame capitulation down the road in Georgia, next summer's European Championship in Austria and Switzerland could be the first major tournament without any of the home nations since the 1994 World Cup.

England's fate is no longer in their hands - if Croatia do not lose in Macedonia and Russia pick up six points against Israel and Andorra, England will be out and Steve McClaren will almost certainly be looking for another job.

Just 16 months ago, supporters were happily waving "cheerio" to Sven-Goran Eriksson after a third successive defeat in the quarter-finals of a major tournament.

But after defeat in Moscow - albeit to a dodgy penalty decision and four crazy minutes - England may well fall at the first hurdle since the controversial Swede's departure.

So, why are England now teetering on the brink of Euro 2008 qualification catastrophe?

INHERENT PROBLEMS

Former England boss Graham Taylor hinted at deep-rooted problems within the domestic game after Steve McClaren's side slipped to defeat in Moscow.

"What Russia play is a short passing and very swift game - we do not play that at international level," Taylor told BBC Radio 5live.

"That's not in our culture. We've got to look much deeper at what we rightly expect from our national side.

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"If you look over the years we have not been successful. There is something deeper than just the manager."

Taylor is right. England's football team in recent years has been a classic case of the sum total being less than its individual parts.

The likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney have been rightly regarded as among the best in the world.

But many of the players who have graced the self-styled "most exciting league" on the planet, the Premier League, have been largely unable to transfer their abilities across to the international arena.

Is failing to qualify for Euro 2008 an unmitigated and unforseen disaster which could cost the British economy 1.25bn, as one of Thursday's newspapers suggests?

Or has this humiliation been on the cards for a while?

THE CURSE OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier League was still taking baby steps when England, under Taylor, failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Since that time, the amount of money poured into English football and the number of foreigners plying their trade on these shores has risen beyond all expectation.

Barely a week goes by without a so-called expert hyping the top flight as the best product anywhere on the globe - and though Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A could argue the case, few could deny that the Premier League is an exciting place to be.

In 10 years' time, you don't want us just being pleased to qualify for tournaments

Sir Trevor Brooking speaking in September

So why is it not conducive to a good and successful England team?

Just over a month ago, the Football Association's director of development Sir Trevor Brooking told BBC Sport that England's chances of success were in jeopardy because of the sheer volume of foreigners keeping homegrown players out of Premier League teams.

"The national team has to be under threat - the numbers show that," Brooking told BBC One's Inside Sport. "I don't think you can underestimate it. It's a major concern."

Brooking's comments came after BBC Sport research that only 37% of the starting XIs that played on the first weekend of the Premier League season were English.

So, were England's qualification hopes hit by a lack of alternatives to boss McClaren in Russia?

  • Was there no-one who could replace the error-prone Paul Robinson in goal?

  • Was there no-one who could play at left-back instead of central defender Joleon Lescott?

  • Despite his assured display, was there no-one better than 33-year-old Sol Campbell - a man deemed not good enough 14 months ago - to play at centre-back?

With only the equally error-prone David James and inexperienced Scott Carson as alternatives, you can understand why McClaren kept faith in Robinson.

With Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge injured, the left-back choice was a tricky one as well. Was the manager left with any choice but to recall Campbell after injuries to John Terry and Ledley King and Jamie Carragher's embarrassing decision to retire?

Whatever the reasons for McClaren's choice of selection in Moscow, it has not taken long for Brooking's worst fears to be confirmed.

POSSESSION

Possession is nine-tenths of the law in international football - and the fact that England conceded 67% of the ball to the Russians is a crime they did not - and did not deserve to - get away with.

It seems giving the ball away cheaply is a disease English football simply cannot rid itself of and at the highest level it costs them time after time when it really matters.

England's Shaun Wright-Phillips (left) with Russia's Andrey Arshavin
The class of Arshavin (right) was too much for England

Think back to Euro 2000 and the calamitous defeats to Portugal and Romania, or to the 2004 and 2006 quarter-final losses to Luiz Felipe Scolari's Portuguese - and how on each occasion England were inferior in possession.

None of those teams were exactly world-beaters and neither were Russia on Wednesday.

Yet compared to Shaun Wright-Phillips, who appeared to suffer an allergic reaction to the ball, Andrei Arshavin was made to look like Zinedine Zidane in his pomp.

Countless times England gifted Russia the ball and invited another wave of attacks. When they picked the ball up at the back, their first thought was always to hoof it upfield as far as they could - never to try to pass their way out of trouble.

Yet again, they got found out. This time, instead of ensuring England do not get to the business end of a tournament, it might just ensure they do not even make it to Euro 2008 at all.

The final word should rest with the eerily prophetic Sir Trevor: "In 10 years' time, you don't want us just being pleased to qualify for tournaments."

For 10 years, read just over 10 weeks. If Russia win in Israel on 17 November - 75 days after Brooking spoke to BBC Sport - England will be all but out of Euro 2008.



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