Sunday, 12 June 2016

Euro 2016 Diary: England draw again

A photo posted by UEFA EURO 2016 (@uefaeuro) on

Unlike Wales, England are generally pretty good at qualifying for major international tournaments. However, also unlike Wales, England are not very good at playing in major international tournaments. Once again the England team succumbed to a draw despite on the opening day of a summer tournament. What makes this draw particularly frustrating for England fans is that for once, their team was involved in an enjoyable game which they really should have won.

In the mind of this Englishman before kick off a draw was a decent result. In Russia, England faced a fancied and traditionally strong football nation. With the exception of Roman Neustädter, the entire Russian squad play in the Russian League which is not available to most people in the UK. Any first hand knowledge of their players is restricted to Russophiles and those in the football media that watch Russian teams in the Champions League and the Euro 2016 qualifiers and it is likely that many of those correspondents do not report on the England team. It was therefore difficult to asses the challenge faced by Russia until the game was actually played.

To my eyes, it looked very much like England dominated most of the match. Certainly in the first half England enjoyed most of the possession and put it to good use by creating plenty of chances. According to the stats, Hodgson's team had over twice as many shots on goal and the Russian 'keeper Igor Akinfeev had to make four saves, one of which was from the top draw.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that Russia for dormant in this match. They out tackled England, made more pass interceptions and held a more solid back line which caught the English forwards offside five times. None of with takes away from the fact that they conceded enough chances to lose the game comfortably. Their last gasp equaliser came as a result of a horrific mis match between Danny Rose and Vasili Berezutski at the far post. This is a consequence of utilising attacking full backs who lack complete defensive attributes and poor organisation which comes from the pressure of of defending a one goal lead.

England should have been over the horizon by half time and that sadly for England is the difference between an average team and a good team.  It need hardly be emphasised that in a tournament in which you have three games to do your work you cannot afford to waste great goalscoring oppurtinities by shooting straight at the goalkeeper If you can't put your chances away then you need to be strong enough defensively to keep a clean sheet and England just do not roll that way (neither, I suspect, do most teams on this tournament). As encouraging as it was to watch some of England's build up play, particularly from Adam Lallana, they will not go deep in this tournament unless they adhere to that truism.

Inevitably, blame falls on Roy Hodgson. The England manager does not enjoy the greatest popularity. Some think his tactics are boring, outdated or otherwise unsuitable. Others say that his tactics are boring, outdated or otherwise unsuitable to disguise to themselves and others that they do not like him. Hodgson's reputation as good coach exists outside England and it is likely that short of winning Euro 2016, it will remain so.

I think Hodgson understands that if England want to win Euro 2016 they will need to set up in more than one formation depending on the type of opposition. Unfortunately, England present the appearance of a coach that does not know his best formation. One thing we can be sure that he can be sure of is Wayne Rooney, whom he played in midfield to some affect against Russia, and Jack Wilshere with whom he replaced Rooney shortly after Eric Dier's goal. This was either a sensible move if you think that England should have pressed for the second goal or a disaster if you think England should have sat back and protected their lead.

For many England fans and commentators, substituting Rooney under any circumstances, is a terrible idea unless he is injured.  Irrespective of the wisdom of Hodgson's decision last night, this is a stupid point of view. The Manchester United captain is a fine player but is not and should not be regarded as a talisman.

Recriminations and robust defences of Hodgson are irrelevant unless you're trying to sell something. He is the England coach and if England build on this performance and beat Wales and/or Slovakia he will most likely stay that way. If this proves to be England's peak then Roy will be gone. After all, to get knocked out of one major tournament at the group stage may be regarded as a misfortune. To get knocked out of two seems more like carelessness.