Watching my first major tournament from a mind-bending eleven hours ahead of UK time has been fraught with problems. Stay awake until 1am or sleep early. Get up at 4am, or just catch the 7am game. Beer for breakfast or coffee at midnight. Watching the highlights reels online the next morning, catching up on the goals – but not really watching the whole game.
I tell a lie. I caught England’s last minute drawfeat against Russia. I watched their last minute, beyond the last minute, win against Wales – dancing around my front room silently at 3am. And I also accompanied Enzo to Gina’s Italian Kitchen where we watched Italy take Sweden down, to the loud approval of the Azzurri supporters.
On Tuesday I watched all of England’s game against Iceland. While I made toast and tea, Wayne Rooney scored an early penalty. Finally, Sterling going down made England cheer. But then, mid-mouthful, Iceland equalised. As I put my dishes in the dishwasher, they went ahead.
I went to work. No television at work. It was over anyway.
There’s plenty of reasons why it’s been a bad week for England as a whole. They lost a Prime Minister, they decided to vote to leave the European Union and the political system appears to be unable to cope with the prospect of any of it.
England’s defeat to Iceland, who are members of the European Economic Area, was symbolic more than anything. At the same time the country beat its chest and roared in defiance, flag hoisted high, one of their sporting avatars appeared uninspired, bereft of creativity and frankly, bloody awful. There’s probably some deep, chin stroking symbolism at work in there somewhere.
It turns out that an England side with the Premier League’s top two scorers in can’t score goals. That picking Jack Wilshere, who’d not played a full 90 minutes all season, was a mistake. It turned out picking a side where almost every player either wasn’t in their natural position or able to co-ordinate with their clubmates produces utterly terrible football. And, say it quietly now, Wayne Rooney isn’t an international class midfielder even if he does punt the ball long to the wide right in a Gerrardesque style.
Joe Hart can take justifiable flak. Positioning against Russia. Handling against Wales. Handling against Iceland. But his defence, a recognised weakness in the build up, didn’t exactly help him.Eric Dier went from midfield colossus to Eric Dire against Iceland, not helped by the amorphous lump of mishapen attackers strewn across the pitch in front of him. It’s rare England produce a genuine holding midfielder, and I hope he grows into that role. Raheem Sterling has become the latest boo-magnet, and you’d hope he can bounce back in the way many others before him have. He might make captain one day. Becks did.
Forgetting will be one way England heals itself, helped by the fact that this team were utterly forgettable. Not as hyped and weak as the team that went to Brazil, not as last minute as the Ukrainian adventure. Just a bit hopeless at scoring, a bit hopeless at defending and trying to cover up both by passing the ball around in areas their opponents wanted them to.
So, while the English people voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe, the English football team didn’t have a choice as they were escorted out of the competition by their opponents.
Hodgson had gone within an hour, emulating David Cameron the Friday before. His tournament performances; 2012 Quarter Final, 2014 Group Stage and 2016 Round of 16 cannot be balanced out by pointing out the quality of the qualifying campaign.
The only positive is one that Hodgson has stated. When he took over the average age of the squad was in the 30’s. Now it is in the early 20’s. Potential will be a word that is used and overused. No doubt someone’s going to start talking about a golden generation or some such rubbish, should the first qualifier for Russia 2018 go well.
England are for now, out of it. Whoever takes on the impossible job next will have to work out a way back in.
Categories: English/UK Football