England’s focus is yet again guff
A late equaliser. It only comes to a side if they’re mentally defective or playing an irresistible force. Russia, we know, are not an irresistible force. They are limited and they are slow. England, however, have Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill in defence, and noted clown Joe Hart in goal - a man so desperate to be taken seriously that he is a total joke. The rest of the side have promise, potential and an enormous amount of talent, but they also have a grey, charisma-void owl as a manager. They need a man to make them more than the sum of the parts, and impart some technical excellence. They have a boring, duff old man instead. A man who has failed on every level of competitive European and international football over the last years. He has proved that he cannot manage a team and make them anything more than functional. That’s enough to get a side through the qualifiers, but it’s not enough to do anything special. The manner in which they conceded was almost a sarcastic response from the universe, but in truth it felt more than inevitable. People will say they ‘deserved’ victory. People should remember that they ‘deserved’ to draw because they were incapable of doing anything with the ball when it wasn’t a set piece. England have nothing to believe in, yet they will keep doing so.
The standard of competition appears to be woeful
As the best players are concentrated in the richest leagues, it is easy to think that the world’s talent is cosmopolitan. Marik Hamsik, Gareth Bale and Xherdan Shaqiri were on show today and all from various, relatively small countries in Europe. But beyond that, the fact remains that talent is also concentrated in the very richest countries of Europe. Germany, France, England and Spain have their own problems in football and in their economy, but they nevertheless lead the way in the players available to them.
What the games earlier showed England is that they don’t necessarily have to be special to progress out of their group, and through the knockouts, they just have to be organised and play to their strengths. They have found that almost impossible over the last two decades, but it is nonetheless true. It is time they realise that they have the opportunity for success if they can ignore the self-doubt.
Harry Kane on set pieces is wasting everyone’s time
Phil Jones once took corners for Manchester United. It was the worst decision of Louis van Gaal’s reign and we know how that ended. Roy Hodgson has, in truth, done a worse job even than Van Gaal. When it gets to group stages, he has been appalling as a manager. The tedium of qualification has been overcome, but that means little. When it comes to the knife edge of the tournament itself, the finer details matter.
Harry Kane is an excellent striker. As a forward he can shoot and head, and make the most of half-chances. He can also strike a set piece with accuracy. But so can Wayne Rooney, and so can Dele Alli. It is a waste of time to remove your most dangerous player from the penalty area, and yet that is the decision that is taken. Hodgson has to show he can embrace common sense before it costs him in another tournament.
Raheem Sterling is struggling but there’s little choice for Hodgson
It would be easy to criticise Hodgson for picking Sterling. He’s had a very disappointing year. But, in truth, the other option is playing Jamie Vardy out of position or relying on an iffy Daniel Sturridge. Hodgson is backed into a corner with the best players available to him, and has to ask his full-backs to provide width. Sterling is now a joke because of the extremely high fee paid for him by Manchester City - that should not make a difference to how Hodgson perceives him. He underwhelms, he is probably lacking in confidence and there is a chance that he was taken in by the toxic atmosphere of indifference at City this season, but Hodgson must persist with him. For too long England have suffered by crowbarring players into odd positions, at least Sterling has shown what he can do in the past, and the best option available is to give Sterling the chance to play himself back into form. It isn’t a great decision to make, or have to make, but England have little choice with such a shallow crop of players.
Eric Dier proves to be English is a disadvantage
Congratulations to Eric Dier. He screens the defence with intelligence. He is quick enough and understands where to stand on the pitch. That sets him apart from every single Englishman to have played for his country over the last three decades. His free kick, ahead of the wastrel Wayne Rooney - whose slow, leg up, leg down, ball to the left to nobody, trademark pass, is now so tedious as to be slightly funny - almost won the match for his side. It is a technique and intelligence that could only be garnered from being brought up in Not England. In his case, it was Portugal, but he could have been brought up in literally any other country to have an advantage over the rest of his team-mates. This is a moment that should count as an epiphany for Hodgson, and a simple one at that: choose an eleven that has the least to do with England as is allowed within the rules. The past has proven that England fail to win games. Dier proves that the Remain vote is the way to success.