That’s the end of that then. It wasn’t a huge shock to be eliminated by Italy. Going out to a team of their stature is certainly no disgrace. But few could argue that for 120 minutes we were outclassed by a much better team. Had we prevailed in the penalty shootout we’d have seen, to quote Bill Shankly, “A travesty of justice”.
Pleasingly, there isn’t as much filth and fury with this exit. Great things weren’t expected from England in this campaign. If anything we have actually exceeded expectations. Winning the group in relative comfort was actually as impressive as it was surprising. What wasn’t at all surprising is that as soon as faced a team with genuine aspirations to lift the trophy we were eliminated. We were stretched all over the pitch by Italy. We clearly lacked flexibility in the squad to make differences to our system. This is where Roy Hodgson shouldn’t be heavily criticised. The nature of English football doesn’t make for international success. No manager can change an entire football culture in six weeks. That is the key issue.
Spain have proven that a football culture can evolve. The obsession with aggression has to develop into a more technical thoughtful game. If England are to develop into a side capable of challenging the worlds best physical clashes and gritted teeth won’t be the primary requirement.
The problem is that we hype up the Premier League, import foreigners to make it tactically astute and more technical than the qualities we breed, sell it to almost 200 countries because of it’s physical conflict and fast pace . . . and delude ourselves that this makes the world tremble. As we were delighted to avoid Spain in the quarter final, Italy were just as relieved to facing England not France. Until the English game is prepared to implement the required changes, invest the time and finance to install them effectively we’ll continue to just lumber through tournaments hoping to somehow get lucky.
On the positive side England in this tournament did keep the defensive discipline under pressure, apart from a quarter of an hour against Sweden of course. When Hodgson was appointed we knew much of his style was about shape. There were signs that some of the work has paid off. If attention to detail can be combined with fresh talent it will be a stepping stone to the required metamorphosis.
While emerging talent is scarce we have to make the most of what we have. With that in mind, as soon as Jack Wilshere is fully fit and available the England team must be built around him. Wilshere is an exciting young talent and could lead an era of transformation.
The rest of the tournament will somehow limp on without England! While Italy dominated against England, Germany will present a different challenge completely. A well drilled defence combined with a pacy attack will put Italy on the backfoot. If the game goes all the way German penalties will also be superior to the English variety.
Spain could make history by being the first European team to win three major international tournaments in a row. It’d be a remarkable achievement… not least because as recently as 2006 they were universally regarded as the team that never fulfills potential. In the semi final they face Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Hopefully it’ll be a more even contest than France’s meek attempt to challenge the holders. Even allowing for Spanish brilliance the tepid French effort was a poor show. The fascination will be to see how Spain handle being under sustained pressure. Vincente del Bosque has acknowledged his squad is tired. If fatigue could be exploited Spain could lose one of their titles.
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