Wednesday, 27 June 2012

England: Euro 2012 review

So just like in previous major tournaments, England once again fell at the quarter final stage on penalties. Despite there being such little expectation before the tournament, every England fan wanted and hoped that they would break the 'hoodoo' of the quarter finals and progress to a semi for the first time since Euro 96. Unfortunately for them, Italy ended England's campaign and sent them home wondering what would have been.

However looking back at England's tournament, there is plenty to take to be positive about. Firstly the group that we progressed from was never as easy as anyone would it out to be. Going into the tournament, France were on a 21 game unbeaten run and looked a real force in their pre tournament friendlies. With the likes of Frank Ribery, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri all playing to their best, it looked unlikely that England would finish above them.

With Sweden and Ukraine also in the group, England were facing two teams they had struggled to beat in previous encounters. Despite beating them in a friendly in November, England had never beaten Sweden in a competitive game having drawn their last encounter with them in World Cup 2006. The last time England faced Ukraine was in the qualifying group for the World Cup two years ago. Having beaten them narrowly at Wembley 2-1, England's last group game was away in Ukraine and were beaten 1-0 thanks to a goal from Sergiy Nazarenko.

Having only been appointed months before the tournament, Roy Hodgson had very little time to select and prepare a squad to take to the Championships. Despite the limited time, Hodgson gathered a squad full of youth and experience. Dropping Rio Ferdinand out of the squad, caused a massive uproar with both the media and the fans and threw questions into whether Hodgson was right in doing it. The selection of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain though was one that was praised and welcomed by many. Hodgson was not helped with his preparation with the timing of injuries to certain players. Both Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were ruled out of the tournament before a ball was kicked, while central defender Gary Cahill joined them after suffering a jaw injury during the friendly with Belgium.

Having lost such experience in the centre of midfield, Jordan Henderson and Phil Jagielka were brought in as replacements, questioning whether England's midfield was good enough to cope with their opponents further on in the tournament. With both Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker ageing and injury prone, the lack of experience as back up was something  that caused serious concern.

Having won both their pre tournament friendlies 1-0 against Norway and Belgium, England went into their tournament with no pressure and nothing to lose. The opening game against France ended a 1-1 draw and meant a good start to their campaign. England's second game ended in a 3-2 win over Sweden and by far their best performance under Hodgson. Having gone behind early on in the second half, Hodgson's substitutions gave England more of an attacking threat and resulted in the two goals that won them the game. Needing only a point from their last game to qualify, England battled hard to a 1-0 win thanks to a Rooney header. Despite winning the game, England struggled to create other chances and were penned in their half for much of the game.

The inability to hold onto possession for lengths of the game and the lack of chances created was something that needed to improve if they were to make any progress in the competition. 
Having topped their group, England faced the task of Italy in their quarter final avoiding the much fancied Spain. At this point expectation back home was a lot higher and a place in the semi finals was a realistic possibility. However this possibility quickly disappeared as England lacked a serious attacking threat throughout much of the game leaving Italy to dominate with Andrea Pirlo dominating the midfield. Having just about got away with similar performaces in the group games, England battled through 120 minutes of the game before falling to the lottery of a penalty shootout. It was fair on Italy who deserved to go through, but for England, the lack of chances and the inability to keep the ball in the game ended their hopes of progressing to the semis.

Despite all this, the progress England made under Hodgson in a short period of time, is something to be proud of. The spirit within the camp was a lot better than in previous tournaments and the inclusion of some promising youngsters in the squad is one step in building a team for the future. Though if England are to compete and cope with the likes of Spain, Germany and Netherlands, then there is a lot of hard work to be done if we are to see an England captain lifting either a World Cup or a European Championship in the near future. 

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