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FIFA World Cup 2018: Lack of playmaker could hurt Harry Kane’s England

England failed to create many clear cut chances against Colombia in their FIFA World Cup 2018 encounter - their only goal came from a penalty conceded when Carlos Sanchez grappled with Harry Kane in the second half.

football Updated: Jul 04, 2018 20:19 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,World Cup 2018,World Cup Russia
Harry Kane gestures during the FIFA World Cup 2018 encounter against Colombia on Tuesday.(AFP)

When Gareth Southgate named his 23-man squad ahead of the World Cup, one thing evident about England was the absence of a genuine playmaker.

Jack Wilshere, perhaps the only experienced option available to Southgate, was always unlikely to be selected after his struggles at Arsenal.

Over the years, England have been spoilt for choice in midfield. So much so that even the great Paul Scholes, prior to his early retirement, often found himself being played out of position on the left.

In Russia, however, the tireless Jordan Henderson in the middle has no playmaking option to complement him.

It couldn’t have been more evident than against Colombia on Tuesday when the opposition’s overtly physical approach left England struggling to create chances.

In the absence of James Rodriguez, Jose Pekerman played to his strengths and offered England little space in the middle or in the front third.

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Playing a low defensive line, Pekerman also tried to prevent counter-attacks and curtail England’s pace advantage.

In response, Gareth Southgate’s team offered little in terms of attacks. One may accuse Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard of being wasteful but it was never going to be easy to get out of Colombia’s defensive stranglehold.

It was in a situation like this that a playmaker would have made a difference. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with just 46 games in the last four seasons, was perhaps not the best option in a deep playmaking role either.

England survived on Tuesday, partly due to Colombia’s own inability – or was it unwillingness? – to attack more and assert themselves in midfield which would have put England and Henderson under pressure.

The Three Lions scored from a penalty that Colombia could have avoided conceding had Carlos Sanchez not getting into a grappling session with Harry Kane.

As the game progressed, the supply line to Kane was far from functioning well. Kane often ran back to his midfield to try and create space for his teammates up front.

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Constant fouls from the opposition also disrupted England’s rhythm. The struggle continued throughout the 120 minutes of play. Even the introduction of Marcus Rashford late in the game didn’t liven things up.

In the quarter-final against Sweden, England won’t meet a side this physical. What they will be facing, however, is a team more organised and disciplined defensively.

Sweden’s own playmaking options are limited but England are unlikely to have it any easier in terms of controlling the game.

More worrisome, however, will be games after the quarters. In case they win against Sweden, a possible meeting in the semi-final could be against Luka Modric’s Croatia.

First Published: Jul 04, 2018 20:00 IST