Expectations were low coming in to the European Championships for England fans. An abysmal World Cup was followed by in fighting, the departure of a manager and a host of injury problems in the weeks building up to this tournament. Now, things are looking slightly more promising. England topped their group two wins and a draw, showed character to fight back from 2-1 down against Sweden and look well organised at the back. I could talk about the paradox of low expectations inducing actual expectations of success but it is irrelevant. The players have to deal with so much pressure on a day-to-day basis that I doubt their success will be based on whether or not the fans ‘reckon’ they can do it.
However, we have learnt a lot in the past two weeks about this England squad and a lot of it is positive.
Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole have all mentioned to the press recently that morale is high in the England camp – something you’d hope was true at most tournaments but is far from guaranteed. The reported factions within the 2010 squad seemed to do no end of damage, especially when certain individuals spoke out against the manager. To have divisions not only between the manager and the players but also different sections of the players is a recipe for disaster. This year England appear to have struck a decent balance. The omission of some of the older players may have contributed towards this or it may just been that Hodgson’s approach endears him towards the squad in a way that Capello never could. Whatever the cause, England look the happiest they’ve been since Sven left.
Back to basics
One thing we’ve all learnt from this tournament is that we shouldn’t be expecting any kind of fireworks on the pitch, not metaphorically anyway. Simplicity is the name of the game. After the group stages England have had the fewest number of shots (16) as well as having made the fewest amount of passes (807). However that does leave them with the best chance conversion ratio in the tournament. Let’s face it, this isn’t the most spectacular England team we’ve ever seen but they know their limitations and could, ironically, be stronger as a result. Hodgson wants England playing a simple game and so far so good.
Central midfield a problem
Gerrard may well be England’s stand out performer in this tournament and Scott Parker has been doing his usual heroic routine of throwing his body on the line at every given opportunity but that shouldn’t mask our frailty in that area. England can move Milner across to the centre or call upon Jordan Henderson or Phil Jones as back up to Parker and Gerrard but God forbid one of them were to get injured or suspended this team’s plan could begin to unravel. Even the proposed return of Wilshere next season cannot hide the fact that our other four best central midfielders (Lampard, Gerrard, Barry and Parker) are all the wrong side of thrity and none of them may make it to the Brazil 2014.
Performance dependent upon our opposition
Arguably our best performance so far has come in the only game we haven’t won. It’s often the case with England that we perform well against the bigger sides but struggle against team of a lesser quality, and Euro 2012 doesn’t appear to be an exception.
Whilst our performance against Sweden was impressive due to the manner of the comeback in reality we shouldn’t have conceded either of those goals and our performance against Ukraine was really poor. However, from now on we’ll only be playing decent opposition so let’s hope our performances pick up.
World Cup Qualifiers
There are lessons to be learned before we head in to the World Cup qualifiers for Brazil in 2014. England may have some gifted young players coming through to replace some of the more wizened members of the squad but if we really want to aim high for 2014 many of them will need more tournament experience. In particular the likes of Phil Jones could play a major part both in the qualifiers and the tournament itself so to see him play a part at some point would clearly be beneficial.
Overall you’d have to say that these Championships have been a positive experience. Hodgson’s tactics will be more effective as his tenure wears on, as was demonstrated by his time at West Brom and Fulham, so, in theory, it can only get better.
Why there are numerous ways of interpreting England’s performances at this stage, Samsung have asked football fans ‘what you think has mattered most’, so whether you feel Hodgson is the nation’s saviour, Welbeck is our new star striker, or Joe Hart is in fact the World’s best keeper then let them know. I have added my thoughts to the process and I suggest you do the same by clicking here to be in with a chance to win a whole host of goodies, including a Samsung Smart Television ES8000 55”. Why not join the debate…