Three Lions – Much Ado About Nothing

Another big tournament, another failure. England’s non-performance at the big stage continues. Krishnendu Sanyal takes you through the agony of watching England’s abject surrender and another penalty shoot-out failure

Familiarity, so they say, breeds contempt. England can relate.

England has been there before, to the extent that it seemed quite inevitable. England is out of another tournament on penalty shoot-outs and again failed to beat a ‘major’ football nation.

The kick that finished it all

This quarter-final was different to the other quarter-final exits that preceded it. At least against Portugal (2006 World Cup) and Brazil (2002 World Cup), England gave their opponents a decent run for their money. Against the Italians, England were by far the second best team. The Azzurri created more chances, had better possession and Roy Hodgson’s two banks of four was clearly intending to park the bus and winning the lottery via a set-piece.

This doesn’t mean England had a bad tournament. There were a few positives to take away from Poland-Ukraine and was definitely an improvement on the disaster that was Germany 2006.

Roy Hodgson: Deserves more time

Deserves time

Roy Hodgson’s tactics were considered negative by many and the possession statistics clearly second that thought process. On the other hand, we can say Hodgson was building a base from which he can start his work and was using the resources that were available to him.

We mustn’t forget that for varying reasons England were unable to call on John Ruddy, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Gareth Barry, Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverly, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Darren Bent. At some point all of them would have been considered for selection for the tournament.

Who knows what would have happened if Hodgson had a Jack Wilshere and a Michael Carrick at his disposal. We should also remember he had only a month to prepare the team for the tournament and come 2014 World Cup qualifiers, when he will have had more time, his tactics might not be as rigid and defensive as it was during the tournament. The Fulham and West Brom teams of Roy Hodgson were an organized bunch but were not as defensive as the England team, so he deserves more time to work with the team and with better players at his disposal, he might make a difference to the England set-up.

As I earlier said, Hodgson built a good base. While defending, the back four together with Scoot Parker and Steven Gerrard conceded only 3 goals in four games plus an extra half hour and 2 of them came against Ukraine. The defence was rigid and organized and rarely lost its shape and together with the midfield, were a difficult structure to break down. That is an extremely good record and something that the team can definitely build on, especially with the manager having more time and players becoming available after recovering from injury.

Truth Be Told

There were negatives though. A number of players had a poor tournament. Ashley Young flattered to deceive and was nowhere close to replicating his club form with Manchester United. To be fare to him, he spent most of the time in his own half and was running into blind alleys when with the ball, due to the rigid tactics of play that England adopted. Wayne Rooney was banned for the first two games, came back and scored a goal against Ukraine but was largely anonymous against Italy. He looked off the space and England should really contemplate on whether they should take a player to a tournament if he is unavailable for the whole duration or look for his alternatives who could be a part of playing eleven from the start of the competition.

Unimpressive duo

But England’s greatest problem is their woeful passing. The ball seemed to bounce off every England player straight to the opponent and many passes were strayed and pointless. The most ridiculous statistic that showed England’s problem was that the best pass conversion for England players in the quarter-final was between Joe Hart and Andy Carroll. The problem is both technical and tactical. If you put on a passing drill, I don’t think any England player of the squad will hit 10/20/30/40 passes and that is due to the British way of playing football. The tactical side is that England players are very rigid when it comes to positioning, they rarely create enough room or space to create an opportunity for pass to be made, and opponents find it easy to read the game and get the ball back under their possession.

Moving Forward

England will have to progress. Functional football such as this is good as short-term fix, but wholly unacceptable in the grand scheme of things. For some such as John Terry and Frank Lampard (who was injured here), they will need to be phased out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can expect a bigger role in the future; Jack Wilshere’s return from injury will be met with great anticipation.

Wilshere – Hope for the future

So there we have it, positives and negatives. A disappointing exit to a tournament where England did better than expected, there is hope for the future and certainly some good elements to build on but, and it may be a cliché, the hard work really does start now for Roy Hodgson and his men.


Title courtesy: Souvik Basu