Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Very Belated England Football Team Post

Yes, you are all still football widows for the time being.

The one thing on everyone’s lips is that Wayne Rooney has return to the England squad. 

I’m not a fan of Wayne Rooney.  I am a fan of Wayne Rooney’s potential, to be sure, and sadly, it’s a potential that has yet to be realized for England and I’m becoming increasingly skeptical that it will ever be realized.

It may be him personally, or his inability to adjust to England’s game from Manchester United’s, where he routinely averages a goal every two games or so.  I’m not sure.  And I’d be wary to upset the apple cart and slip Rooney into a starting eleven that has done very nicely without him thus far this tournament.

But that’ll never, ever happen.  Rooney carries the Expectations of a Nation on his broad shoulders, where anything else but a cup win with him capping a hat-trick per game will be seen as a failure. 

I anticipated a positive result against Ukraine and a berth in the quarter-finals.  I cannot see England making it past either Spain or Italy.  I hope they do, and as Saturday rolls around, I’ll turn into a crazy, hope-against-hope fan again.  And who knows?  It could happen (it WILL happen… we still believe!)

My feeling is that this is a young team that still needs developing.  It’s unfair to put upon them the expectations that were put on the so-called Golden Generation of Beckham and co.  They had their best chance in 2006 when a young Rooney, still nursing an ankle injury got sent off for stomping on Portugal’s Figo.  I felt they had the talent to win that game, had they had their full team on.  It wasn’t to be and the England squad disintegrated to the point where they failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and put up their worst World Cup showing in 2010.  To put it in perspective, England scored as many goals against Sweden on Friday as they did in all four games in WC 2010.  And most of their opponents weren’t exactly top-level competition either. 

There’s a positive energy to the squad now that’s been absent for the last 5 years or so.  I’m not sure what it is – coaching, new blood or a combination of both.  I feel though this is the squad we can take to the World Cup in 2014 and show very well.

England 1 – Ukraine 0

Well, England did it… sort of.  With a lot of luck they did it, because they did not play well.  And yes, Rooney scored, but to be fair it was a goal I could have put in, had I been in his position.

It really should have been a tie, because Ukraine did put one over the line, but the officials didn’t spot it.  At least we England fans can be sympathetic toward Ukraine, because fate was against us too in South Africa in 2010.  Can we please put goal-line technology in place now FIFA?  How much more convincing do you need?
I didn’t see the entire game.  I watched about 20 minutes before I took Nick to his doctor’s appointment and got a text about Rooney’s goal as soon as I sat down in the pediatrician’s office.  The doctor and I celebrated and spent 5 of Nick’s 15 minutes talking soccer while he gave Nick the once-over.  He declared Nick to be ridiculously  healthy, with the body of a young Olympic athlete, and sent him on his way with a handful of jelly beans.  England’s play was sloppy at best, frightening at worst.  Ukraine was given too free a reign with the ball.  England should be lucky they weren’t playing Spain or Germany, because either team would’ve punished them in short order.

Steven Gerrard

Okay, I’m officially eating crow now.  I was dead-set against Gerrard being included in this England line-up.  I think everyone was.  Gerrard is old and hasn’t been healthy in a long, long time.  Further to that, Gerrard represented the notion that England was clinging to the promise of the past a little too long (Frank Lampard anyone?).  I mean, it’s not like England doesn’t have midfield options, but they don’t have anyone quite like Gerrard, who can move so fluidly between offense and defense.  Two assists and two Man of the Match awards in three games, engineering vital set piece plays, and being an all around great captain.  He’s been a bright star, all that much brighter for someone whose best days are decidedly behind him.


England has a confidence defending in the box that I haven’t seen in ages.  It’s a good thing too, since Roy Hodgson’s primary strategy is to play 8 in the box and let the opposition try to hammer them down, and then counterattack when the time is right.  Goal line saves by resident adulterer and alleged racist John Terry certainly doesn’t   This strategy is meh at best.  I’m not a fan, and would rather see England adopt a more balanced attack, albeit for purely aesthetic reasons.  But it seems to be doing something, since England has had an impressive record in this tournament.  Whether England continues this strategy against top level competition remains to be seen.  I shudder to think they will

Joe Hart

Let me be blunt:  England would not have made it out of the group stage without Hart.  He has been that important.  The France game for sure would have been a loss, and I'm quite certain Ukraine would have been either a tie or another loss.  England hasn't seen a keeper like him since David Seaman, and he still has a good 10-15 years ahead of him.  A winning team is anchored by a good keeper.  This is a good start.

vs. Italy

England drew Italy.  Their other option was to draw defending champions Spain, who are looking quite comfortable right now, drawing a fighting-behind-closed-doors France.

I've got a good feeling about this game.  Italy is an old squad, while England is primarily kids, with a few vets thrown in.  Italy is a defensive side, and so is England.  Oddsmakers have them virtually even.  Balotelli will be the wild card for Italy.  When he plays well, there are few better.  But he is a prima donna and prone to erratic and bizarre behaviour.  I'll be bunkered at the King's Head Pub on King St. in the Exchange District this Sunday.

Come on Eng-er-land!!  Who are you pulling for this tournament?  Or could you care less?

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