Honduran friend: It must feel terrible being an England fan.
Me: About as terrible as supporting Honduras.
Honduran friend: No. Seriously. You have great teams but you never get it together. With Honduras, we play well only when we need to. With England, what happens? Why save your best performances for qualifiers and friendly games? Why?
Me: If only I knew . . .
This is the conversation I had with someone two years ago during England’s disastrous World Cup in Brazil. However, this statement still very much applies today.
On Saturday England drew with a Russian team that was delightfully sitting on the plate like a steaming odalyi waiting to be gobbled up by 11 red-faced Englishmen. I had read that Russia’s star players were injured with the only danger coming from a big lad who was good at heading. The very youthful English strikers should have been running rings around their aging defence and then snigger in Putin’s passionateless face.
However, what should have been and what actually happens are two different things when it comes to the England national team. Second guessing is painful. With England, however, it’s just bloody aggravating.
For all of England’s dominance, huffing and puffing and slick passing, not to forget Raheem Sterling’s mindless runs, we couldn’t defend a simple cross to the aforementioned big lad up front. Their attack for the majority of the game was as toothless as Shane MacGowan’s mouth. Any professional team would have killed the game in the first half. No disrespect to Slovakia, but their 2-1 victory today against the Russians really put into perspective how dire England’s result was. But again, it seems, England just can’t get it together when the big tournaments come along.
Some might think that I am being a little harsh. It’s a young team which has suddenly learned the art of possession and keeping the ball (eight years after Spain did in their 2008 Euro triumph). Going into the tournament, everyone believed that the central defence was to be England’s Achilles heel and the offence to carry us through (Roy Hodgson picked five strikers). However, bar the last few seconds, it was defence that proved solid and the attack that looked as blunt as a three old’s crayon. Surely, having a five-man midfield, at least one should be able to provide a decent final ball, but no. Harry Kane was doing a “Lampard” by magically disappearing from the game as soon as he puts on an England shirt. England can even count themselves lucky; the Honduran commentator pointed out the free-kick England scored from should have been indirect. In other word’s, Dier’s goal shouldn’t have counted.
I have faith in Roy Hodgson. He has introduced a lot of young talent and taught the team to morph formations depending on what’s happening in the game. It worked well in the qualifiers and there seems to be a more cultured look about the team, sometimes fluid, sometimes leggy, but it goes against Hodgson’s common critics that he is conservative. I also commend him for putting the final nail in the coffin of England’s golden generation (although it sometimes looked more like gold plated candy floss), although it was kind of forced on him when Gerrard and Lampard retired from international football (two so-called world-class players that coaches spent more than a decade learning that they were bloody hopeless at playing together).
What really grates me about Hodgson though his failure to make the right substitutions at the right time. How is it most supporters can see that a certain player is needed in the game but the coach seems completely bleedin’ blind to it? Against an aging Russian defence and a blunted England attack, there was speed and pace needed. There were three strikers on the bench known for just that. And then on comes James Milner!! Now, I know I’m not the most qualified person to comment, but please, see common sense.
Tomorrow England play Wales, which is rightly said not like a normal European game. This is a derby that if Wales win, fans will be shouting about it for the next 10 years. If England win, just 10 minutes and a sigh of relief we didn’t lose to our annoying little brother. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased Wales is there and the players seem to be enjoying the moment by taunting the English team and British media that the Welsh are more passionate and have a better team. However, these mind games could ultimately return to nip them on their red dragon backside when England come out fired up to make their own point, make amends for last week and teach that annoying little brother a lesson. For me, and rather typically and arrogantly English, Wales reminds me of an angry little dog rather than a big red dragon, that’s been let off the leash and keeps nipping at your ankles. It’s dangerous little jaws come in the form of Bale and Ramsay, which should be dealt with with a strong muzzle. England, on the other hand, is a dopey Labrador which would be hopeless against a fierce German Shepard but strong enough to put a little dog to sleep with one firm bite.
I guess we will find out tomorrow.
In terms of England’s deeper complexities, I think finding a peaceful solution to the Gaza Strip is more likely. Politically and football wise, I just hope the UK teams don’t leave Europe i.e. in shame.