Home > An Englishman In Australia > A pleasant surprise, England’s challenge, Jose’s silence, RIP Socrates

A pleasant surprise, England’s challenge, Jose’s silence, RIP Socrates

Our victory at Goodison Park was as rugged as it was unexpected.  Everton were optimistic having  found form by winning two in a row.  Stoke were coming off the back of the Europa league tie against Dynamo Kyiv.  Although the previous weeks win  had lifted some of the gloom, we were also aware that Blackburn had been so poor it was hard to assess if the corner had been well and truly turned. 

Taking an early lead we expected to be under intense pressure for the remainder of the game.  While Everton dominated possession we handled their threat in relative comfort.  Shawcross and Huth were colossal in central defence…. our finest defenders  back to their unflappable best!  The midfield also stayed on task which proved an impenetrable barrier.

The biggest factor in this victory is that we defended collectively.  Recently we had situations where there were plenty of Stoke players behind the ball but without anyone actually defending.  At Everton everyone applied themselves with admirable discipline.  This led to a priceless clean sheet.  There is still much to improve in our team.  We are still seemingly unable to retain possession in the attacking third and our forward play is generally ad hoc and lacking precision.  However, if we can keep the resilience we’ve re-discovered, there is a huge foundation to work from. 

It’s surprising that much of the media seems to regard England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a formality.  Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems.  The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group.  While lacking the style and panache of the 98 and 2000 sides, France have improved greatly since last years catastrophic World Cup campaign.  By June they could be dark horses to win the competition.  When England beat Sweden in a friendly last month it was the first time they had defeated them since 1968.  If anyone becomes complacent and believes a corner has been turned, bear in mind that England have never beaten Sweden in a competitive match.  Ukraine are the final opponents and facing the hosts always provides an extra challenge.  The notion that England will easily reach the quarter final is naive.   Will the media again be  generating ludicrous levels of expectation?

While Ireland’s task is difficult it isn’t insurmountable.  They have the advantage of knowing a holding game will be essential against Spain and Italy.  Their defensive record suggests they have the focus and discipline to do so successfully.  If they can beat Croatia in their first game they will still be in contention by the time they reach the third against Italy.  Of course they go into the group as underdogs but Ireland could surprise a few people in June.

This weekend sees Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Bernebeu.  At the moment this is the biggest club game in world football.  The whole notion that political issues should be kept separate from sport is hopeless idealism.  Barcelona’s feeling that their team represents an entire people adds a dimension to the intensity of this fixture.  The ongoing dominance of the big two has undoubtedly stifled the appeal of the Spanish league, but for all that, when they meet there is always potential for a footballing classic.  Heading into the game Real Madrid are three points clear at the top of the table.  So far in the build up Jose Mournho has been reserved and avoided controversy which isn’t a good sign for Barcelona.  He usually seems to stir trouble when he’s under pressure. 

On Sunday the magnificent Brazilian Socrates passed away.  Socrates was an amazing footballer.  Despite being 6ft 4 his graceful elegance was the hallmark of this distinctive enigmatic man .  However a match was poised he always had space and time on the ball to dictate the play.  He is best known for being the captain of Brazil’s marvellous 1982 side… considered by many to be the best team ever not to win the trophy.  Being the days before wall to wall TV the World Cup was the first time we’d seen many of the players on show and Socrates and his friends captivated the world.   He was a qualified doctor and deeply involved in politics, often with a quirky perspective on life and sometimes controversial opinions.   RIP Socrates.

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