We qualified! WE QUALIFIED! We got past the group stages and we don’t have to play Italy or Germany next. Already things are better than 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014! If Hungary beat Portugal, then things will be better than 2004 and 2006 because we won’t have to play them either. And Brazil don’t even play in this tournament, so that’s better than 2002. Romania are out, so that means this is better than 2000. Argentina are in the Copa America, so this is better than 1998, which takes us all the way back to 1996 – which means football’s coming home!
The reality is that England drew with Russia because they wasted their chances and sat so deep they invited the equaliser, beat Wales through the ‘chuck all the strikers on’ tactic and lacked the nous to unlock a determined Slovakia.
We came second to Wales. That stings a little, but then again they do have a genuinely world class player in Gareth Bale and a team that appears to work around him, rather than a player who was world class once and is lauded for pinging the same Gerrardy crossfield ball to Walker like he’s a real midfielder. Sorry Wayne.
So, it’s one of Hungary, Austria, Iceland and Ronaldo’s Huge Mentality up next. If there’s a positive to take, it’s a week between fixtures – Wales have to play first on Saturday night. From the games so far, it’s been a cagey tournament which is at odds with the fact that just eight teams are eliminated by the time Thursday’s games and the group stage finishes.
As for the favourites, Germany have started to rumble along, Italy have managed to grind out the wins, Spain realised that they can play with strikers and win and France are slowly working out how to play under the pressure of being at home.
The real stories though are in the little moments. Obviously Him hitting the post with that penalty provided enough schadenfreude to counterweigh Adam Lallana’s hopeless attempts at goalscoring. But Albania’s first tournament goal and the celebrations that followed, were brilliant. As is Iceland’s dogged determination, and Northern Ireland playing their hearts out against Ukraine. There’s been criticism of the ‘smaller’ teams being allowed to qualify, but they add the underdog spirit to the tournament.
Hungary against Portugal will likely decide who faces England next. You’ve got to get behind the Magyars, making their first European Championship appearance in 44 years. They started well against Austria, needed an own-goal against Iceland and now face a Portugal side determined to, um, pass it to Ronaldo?
And yet, should the Hungarians get one over on Portugal and Iceland do Austria over, it’ll be a re-run of the cod wars as Iceland come second in the group. England v Iceland. Massive battle. France await in the quarters, assuming they make it that far. So many combinations.
As for England, questions remain over Hodgson’s best formation and best XI. Only one player outside of the back five is being played in their natural position, and he happens to be the most consistent player. Step forward Eric Dier, who should have enough talent ahead of him on the pitch to prevent the need for his sometimes wayward pot shots. Let him take free kicks though. He’s good at them.
There’s progress though, from 2012 and 2014. England are holding the ball much better, but they’re still lacking that cutting edge, that killer instinct that was evident in previous years Relying on full backs whose crossing is poor, or Henderson or Wilshire, to get balls into the box just isn’t working. Shame we didn’t bring more wingers, eh? Sorry Raheem.
By Thursday we’ll know who our opponent is. I really hope it isn’t Portugal. I really hope it’s Iceland. Or Hungary. Just not Portugal.
It’s going to be Portugal, isn’t it?