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England 2, Wales 0: Winning the Battle and Losing the War

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Fabio Capello

So, 2-0 to the good for England against Wales and looking likely to secure advancement out of their group. Celebrations and salutations all around. Or something.

Of course the score alone doesn't tell the story of England winning despite being static in possession and static in defense, blinders always on as they continually looked to beat their man one on one or aimlessly sent long-balls up the pitch. It doesn't tell how, in general, they showed no interest in playing as a team when they had the ball. And it doesn't tell you how in defense they were individuals, too, with the team looking to keep its shape first and foremost as only the nearest player consistently sought to pressure an opponent with the ball.

Compared to the likes of Spain and Germany and the Netherlands--or the likes of Brazil and Argentina outside their federation--it was almost painfully elementary and individualistic. Those sides hunt in packs. They look to stretch and tire opponents, viewing the game as encompassing the entire pitch and all ninety minutes instead of only the next ten seconds and the man directly in front of them. It's not that they generally embarrass England on the talent front, individual for individual, it's that they know how to play football. Meanwhile England remains happy playing something like what football was forty years ago, at least as far as the various commentators going on about heart and passion and how England so smashingly overwhelmed their minnow opponents seemed concerned.

In reality, though, the only thing the match against Wales really proved for certain is that England had the far more talented side.

If it did prove anything else, it is perhaps that England is world's most talented pub side and will only ever end up with their asses handed to them when they face a country with roughly comparable talent and a hint of tactical nous.

Perhaps a tactical, technical, fiery manager in the Marcelo Bielsa mold could get something out of them. Assuming the players weren't too busy being prima-donnas, and that the FA threw their full weight behind him, and that the shallow end of the media pool didn't rend their garments when the side struggled against a weaker country while they worked through fundamentals and patterns of play that would stand them in good stead against stronger opponents. Which of course all seems rather unlikely to ever happen given how happy most are every time the Three Lions thoroughly outclass some weakened Wales or other using an almost absurdly direct and individualistic approach. All of which reflects that at the end of the day England's problem isn't so much with the senior side or whichever manager is in charge (and at fault) in any particular year.

The problem starts at the youth level. The problem starts with the simplistic and backwards-looking FA and punditry, the groups respectively tasked with guiding development and any public dialog over said development at every age and stage. The problem is with old-boys' networks and people more concerned with covering the latest antics of various WAGs than with passing triangles. The problem is with seeing something like the just witnessed 2-0 victory against Wales as signifying anything especially positive beyond the obvious notch in the win column.

And the problem is that when people bring up England's ongoing international futility, the first excuse trotted out always seems to be that they just don't have the heart or passion or commitment of players from other more successful countries, when it is as much as anything this blind adherence to the virtues of heart and passion and commitment and nothing else that are getting in the way of long-term success.

Without an investment in coaching, and without leaving behind a simplistic love of naught but hustle and heart, England will never win anything. And while the points gained against Wales may help them get into the 2012 edition of the Euros, it also showed clear as day why they cannot and will not win it.