Scottish Daily Mail



SO the concerns were well placed. It was said England’s defence would cost them when t hey f aced quality opponents and those fears were proved right.

During the crucial stages of the defeats by Italy and Uruguay — when strength, composure, leadership and organisati­on were r equired — England’s s hortcoming­s were ruthlessly exposed, first by Mario Balotelli, then Luis Suarez.

England are crying out for quality in defence, players in the mould of Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand. But, more importantl­y, they need leaders like Tony Adams and John Terry, men who could lead by example and relieve the pressure in demanding situations.

Leading a back four is about affecting those around you, lifting them when they need it and helping out when they are in trouble. It is not just about shouting orders or steaming into tackles — it is about setting the tone.

Now, this is not an attack on Gary Cahill, who is a Champions League winner, or Phil Jagielka. They are both top Premier League players and have been so for a number of years. They are the best, most experience­d central defenders available to Roy Hodgson.

Their record had been good prior to the World Cup and England looked vulnerable without them in the 2-2 warm-up game against Ecuador in Miami. Chris Smalling, who played in that match, did little to suggest he was ready to step up a level.

One fact, however, is inescapabl­e about Cahill and Jagielka in Brazil: England have conceded four goals and those two players have been involved in three of them.

Both goals in Sao Paulo were avoidable, none more so than Luis Suarez’s second for Uruguay, which evoked memories of Miroslav Klose’s opener in the 4-1 last-16 defeat by Germany in Bloemfonte­in four years ago.

Back then, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer smashed the ball almost beyond England’s defence and Klose did the rest. This time, after a long punt from Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera, Suarez pounced when the ball skimmed off Steven Gerrard’s head.

Gerrard has been heavily criticised for his role in the game’s defining moment but that is wrong. Cahill must shoulder most of the blame.

Let me explain. When a midfielder goes to intercept a long ball, the aim is to get in front and stop a striker collecting it on his chest or flicking it on. The midfielder’s run means he will, at times, find himself underneath the ball. There is always a chance he or the striker will divert it back to goal.

As a defender, you have to be a pessimist and expect danger to come your way. But, when the ball skimmed off Gerrard’s head, Cahill was the wrong side of Suarez to start with and he had banked on Edinson Cavani applying the flick- on, in which case Suarez would have been offside.

Playing offside should be your last resort, when you are no longer in control of your opponent or the ball. When the ball was in the air, Cahill still had a chance to run back with Suarez and make a difference. It was shocking, then, that he did otherwise and the ramificati­ons were huge.

The four defenders who started for England against Uruguay all have qualities but they would benefit from having a big character with them.

We may not have liked seeing Diego Godin’s rough treatment of Daniel Sturridge but he was excellent and I enjoyed watching him, as I did Rafael Marquez for Mexico against Brazil.

Nothing was going to get past Godin. He was nasty but that’s a quality the best defences have.

Yet that point begs questions: where have all the quality central defenders gone? And if you had to pick your team of the World Cup now, which two men would fill those positions?

As I see it, the best two defenders in the game are Thiago Silva and Vincent Kompany but I am basing that on what t hey have done f or PSG and Manchester City, not their displays so far for Brazil and Belgium.

Don’t get me wrong, it has been fantastic to see so many goals and entertaini­ng games during the group stage but, since I began watching World Cups, there have always been outstandin­g central defenders, men who made defending an art form. Jurgen Kohler did it for Germany in 1990. Aldair was outstandin­g for Brazil in 1994 and was so good for Roma they retired his No 6 shirt.

Brazil beat an Italy side, remember, who were marshalled by Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, while Marcel Desailly was magnificen­t when France won in 1998.

More recently, Lucio (Brazil 2002), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy 2006) and Carles Puyol (Spain 2010) have upheld the tradition. There is such an emphasis now on attacking football but I hope we see a truly great performanc­e from a central defender at this World Cup.

When I speak to coaches, they regularly say that they can’t find leaders anymore and that young players don’t want to take responsibi­lity.

It makes you wonder whether leaders in football are a dying breed.

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