Thursday, 28 June 2012

England - EURO 2012

Roy Hodgson's ultra defensive tactics against the Italians, were universally chastised and rubbished after Sunday night's defeat on Penalties.
Tonight, the vastly superior and much fancied Germans, showed just what could be achieved by leaving themselves exposed at the back and throwing caution to the wind against Italy.
England ground out the results they needed to win Group D.
It wasn't aesthetically pretty to watch.
In fact at times, it was downright dull.
But, borne out of necessity, organisation and graft won the day ... and those who were screaming at their TV sets, demanding 'crash, bang, wallop' break-neck pace football, committing everybody forward while leaving our back doors vulnerable to getting bashed in, obviously don't understand the nature of the beast that is a qualifying group.
The engine room players, pivotal components in the England team, were clearly not fully fit and in one or two cases, carrying knocks that were hampering their mobility, most noticeably the usually influential Scott Parker.
Wayne Rooney too, lacked sharpness after a spell of inactivity (of his own making).
But, with the group games out of the way and the prospect of having to face real quality sides, like Italy, Rooney had to be thrown into the fray at some point and get some much needed minutes under his belt.
It was pleasing to see Rooney keeping his temperament in check during the two games he played in. That bodes well for future campaigns, where he can be part of the team instead of watching from the bench while serving out suspensions, for letting the red mists descend.
To my mind, Rooney has yet to make anything like the impression at international level that he has done for both Everton, where he burst onto the scene as a youngster and Manchester United, but if he's really on top of keeping his heat of the moment indiscretions in check, then his time could still come.
The continued selection of James Milner was lambasted in many quarters, yet though his touch and contribution during games was often less than eye catching, his non stop running, covering the ground that his nowhere near fully fit midfield team mates were struggling to get anywhere near and work off the ball was actually quite outstanding.
Ultimately, in their final game of the tournament, England came unstuck against a better team, who possessed a sprinkling of quite outstanding individuals, the like of who we could only dream of ever having on board ... that's Marion Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo in case you were looking the other way and missed their obvious class and the immense difference they made to the game.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy's in form goalkeeper, is quite possibly the best player in the world in his position at this moment in time too.
In their quarter final game, Hodgson's side, after pushing forward for the first ten minutes, adopted an Alamo type rearguard action against the dominant Italians for the remainder of the game ... and in spite of what all the self appointed experts are saying, they deserve a lot of credit for hanging on and keeping Cesare Prandelli's out for as long as they did ... it was fairly obvious, as they limped out of the group stages on tired limbs, that they weren't going to go much further in the tournament anyway.
The "We're not going home" songs from England's travelling support after their victory over Ukraine, when they merely needed a draw to reach the knockout stages, was an outpouring of relief, as much as anything else.
I'd originally predicted, that England would probably get as far as the quarter finals and that was about it this time around, during a 'light hearted debate' where my work colleagues were casting doubts that 'we'd' even get through the group stages and laughing at my 'misplaced patriotic optimism'.
There's always one, eh!?
And I'm not unduly phased by the fact that it's normally me ...
Given the tools that Roy Hodgson had at his disposal, though I hate it, really, REALLY hate it, when England lose, I'm realistic as regards any hopes and aspirations I have as regards the limitations of the team that represents the country that I had the good fortune to be born in ... and though England expects (that's the England that reads the Sun and lets TV presenters over inflate the team's chances and kid sheep like goggle box watchers into believing all sorts of misguided garbage) too much at times, I'm not overly disappointed that we only got through to the quarter finals stage, before bowing out, against a much better team.
That said, it's only cold comfort to know that a vastly more skilful side, couldn't actually beat Roy Hodgson's men over 120 minutes and had to resort to the by now traditional method of eliminating England from an international tournament. Penalties!
Even when Ricardo Montolivo, fired wide with Italy's second spot kick, to give England a massive advantage in the shoot out, what was about to happen next still seemed all too inevitable.
My heart sank when I saw the dread on Ashley Young's face as he walked forward uneasily to take his turn in the shoot out lottery.
Roy Hodgson had a game plan, to nullify the strengths of the opposition, which could be switched around and tweaked if the need arose, i.e. introducing Theo Walcott against the Swedes to great effect.
During his short spell in charge, he's quickly assessed his teams weaknesses and introduced a system that prevents the England team from being the architects of their own undoing (I hardly need to list past examples of where this hasn't been the case).
But, as for playing to their strengths.
Hmm, apart from defensive qualities, there weren't an awful lot of those to work with.
But now the new man in charge has taken his make do and mend squad through to the quarter finals of the the European Championships, he'll have a clear picture of what the job entails and be able get on with the task of stamping his authority all over the role, without having to suffer the usual millstone burden of (over) expectation that previous England managers have had hung around their necks the moment they've entered office.
Incidentally, I'm really looking forward to the Italy v Spain final, of what's been a really good tournament on Sunday, bring it on ... and then it's only a few days until the 2012-13 pre season friendlies start :-)
The only downside of EURO 2012 for me, was that Mark Lawrenson's microphone was switched on.
In closing, thanks to a minority of my friends in Scotland (but, I hasten to add, not the sensible majority of them) for your gloating texts and Facebook messages after England's defeat, they cheered me up no end.
The adage that there is always someone worse off than yourself, never rang truer.
I know that my national side is average, but I've hired the Hubble telescope and still can't find a trace of yours, they're so far behind in the grand scheme of things.
But you don't care about the Scotland team, you're too busy creaming your underwear when England lose instead ... fact.
I know it and though you're loathe to admit it, you know it too.
England probably won't win another major tournament in my lifetime, yet the fear and worry that they might just get close one of these days (aye right!), really gets your juices going every couple of years doesn't it!?
Never mind, you can show us how good you are at Wembley next year ... see you there?
Thought not!