28 June 2016

England hit rock bottom

Euro 2016: Shock loss to Iceland provokes soul searching

Article by me in MARCA

The mood in England following their defeat to Iceland is one of sheer despondence and anger, with the tabloid press and former players queuing up to express their outrage at a loss against a country with the population of Coventry.

"It's the worst defeat in our history, we've lost to a country with more volcanoes than professional footballers", was Gary Lineker's take on Twitter.

England arrived full of optimism having won every game in qualifying, and that sense of expectation was inflated further by March's friendly win over Germany in Berlin.

Much was made of the attacking options at their disposal; Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy struck 49 goals between them last season.

They went with the youngest squad at the tournament with an average age of just 25 years and 293 days.

But, once again, the tale was a sorry and all-too-familiar one.

Roy Hodgson, reading from an evidently pre-prepared statement as he announced his resignation after the defeat, tried to put a brave face on matters.

"I'm really disappointed to be knocked out," he spoke, "the time has come for someone else to carry this talented generation of players forwards.”

Hodgson got a pass for England's abysmal 2014 World Cup campaign with the feeling in England being that he'd blooded some exciting players and done the best with the group he had available.

There was little such sympathy on show this time round; after once again sailing through qualification, their tournament performance was in keeping with their wretched return over the last two decades.

All in all under Hodgson, England have played eleven games in finals tournaments; in that time they've only won three matches and failed to win a single knock-out tie.

Of course, this run stretches back much further; Sven-Goran Eriksson was much-maligned towards the end of his time with the national team, but his reign represents the only ray of hope in the time since England reached the semi-finals of the European Championship they hosted in 1996.

In 20 years, the only teams they've defeated in the knockout rounds have been Denmark in 2002 and Ecuador in 2006.

The only time they've recently advanced beyond the last eight in a tournament away from their own shores came in the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

There has been a lack of any clear strategy throughout Hodgson's reign with the coach only deciding on their 4-3-3 formation as late as May.

Even then, after changing things around to include players whose form had made the clamouring for their inclusion irresistible, the former Inter manager persisted in shoe-horning in big-name players out of position, or those who through fitness or performances had done little to merit their place.

Alan Shearer, a man hardly noted for his cutting insights, was extremely animated.

"It's the worst performance I've ever seen from an England side", the former striker said on BBC One.

"We were tactically flawed and showed no fight, no spirit.”

Those of an optimistic bent had tried to point to the numbers to dress up England's performances during the group phase.

Much was made of their possession average (63%, the fourth-highest in the competition) and the fact that they had more shots than anyone else (82), but sharper minds saw through these raw figures, pointing out that their possession has been largely sterile and the number of quality chances created distinctly underwhelming.

Their only win came late on against a Wales team who showed them far too much respect on the day.

The emergence of a glut of exciting, technically adept players over the last few years raised hopes that this team it could be different but all too often in France they resembled a side with talented footballers but little real idea of what they were doing.

Rio Ferdinand summed this up neatly.

”We need an identity. They say 'you can't play 4-4-2', but that would have been the best solution.”

Joe Hart, much hyped back home, endured a nightmare tournament; Wayne Rooney surpassed the modest expectations of him in his midfield position, but England's all-time top goalscorer has been slammed for his lack of leadership.

Indeed, the lack of leaders throughout the team was alluded to by an irate Chris Waddle on BBC radio after the game, with the former international slamming the players for preferring to have their headphones on rather than communicate with each other.

"I think this group of players still has success ahead of them, they can improve and meet expectations in the future", Hodgson remarked.

The FA executive David Gill spoke also of what lies ahead.

"We will be looking for the best manager possible for the job, and he doesn't necessarily have to be English."


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