Monday, 25 June 2012

England v Italy review

So once again, lady luck proves to not be an England fan as Roy Hodgson becomes the latest England manager to succumb to the dreaded penalty shootout.

England lost 4-2 on penalties after 120 minutes of stalemate football, as England struggled to create chances against a strict Italian defence led by the mighty Gianluigi Buffon in goal.  England were thankful themselves for the continued form of Joe Hart in goal, as he kept at bay his club team-mate, Mario Balotelli and the engineer Andrea Pirlo who was unanimous as man of the match.

Pirlo dictated the pace of the game, able to pull the strings and orchestrate the action at a pace he suited in his advancing years.  He was helped by the fact that he had two midfielders along side him, this meant that Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were outnumbered in midfield allowing Pirlo a total freedom of the Kiev pitch.

Yet England looked lacking in ideas and originality, unable to create anything, not getting anything from the wide men, relying on set pieces to count as attacking opportunities.  So where did we go wrong?

1. Wayne Rooney failed to step up
Whilst it would be unfair to single out one man for England's defeat on a shootout, Rooney was expected to return to the England side full of vigour and intensity following his two match suspension.  He can be forgiven for ring rust in the first game against Ukraine, in which he scored, yet his anonymity for much of the two hours of football cannot be.  Rooney was in his fourth tournament, and yet it still feels that he has been unable to replicate good club form to an international platform.

2. Injuries ruined England's gameplan
The dual injuries to Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry denied England the opportunity to fully employ Roy Hodgson's gameplan of flooding the midfield.  If Barry had been fit, he would have joined Gerrard and Parker in the centre able to combat the three man Italian midfield, and also allow Gerrard to support the front pair more often; something missing from the game.  Too often Young and Rooney were isolated with lack of support runners.  Lampard's form for Chelsea at the end of the season was mightily impressive with his mix of stern defence, tackling and bombing runs into the box.  Lampard would also have been a definite penalty taker last night.  Barry and Lampard's presence would have allowed the opportunity to rotate and rest Parker's ailing ankle ligaments; the fact that Jordan Henderson was his substitute spoke volumes.  The introduction of the Liverpool player at the bar where I watched the game, was met with a mixture of 'Oh no not him' and sighs

3. England need creativity
England were seemingly hoping to soak up the pressure from Italy, and possibly counter them on the break with the pace of Young and Welbeck.  Yet too often the final ball was poor and by the end England were hoofing the ball from Hart to Andy Carroll, a good ploy has Carroll won plenty of ball but had no options when he gained possession.  England need a player with a creative streak in him like Paul Gascoigne or Glenn Hoddle,someone who can run at people with the ball from midfield with an air of fearlessness whilst being assured, sadly that player was also one who was injured, Jack Wilshere.

4. Defence is key
Hodgson in his six games thus far has had four clean sheets; he has a pedigree of sorting out this problem.  He was helped by having a Championship winning keeper defender combination in Hart and Joleon Lescott, two Champions League winners in John Terry and Ashley Cole, and the reliable Glen Johnson who has grown in this tournament.  It would have been interesting if Kyle Walker had been fit what impact his darting runs down the right would have made.  Yet with Terry in the twilight of his years and pace alluding him, England have backups in Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Phil Jones.  Thankfully also they have a world class goalkeeper for the next 10 years.

5. The FA picked wisely
The FA should be pleased with their appointment of Hodgson over Harry Redknapp, Hodgson did what was expected of him by getting England out of a difficult group.  He showed some tactical acumen as you would expect but also got a rub of some green and allowed the squad to display some harmony and unity from a press that were not expecting the world. You imagine if Redknapp was in charge, the gameplan would have been more gung-ho which can lead to it blowing back in your face.
Hodgson has laid the groundwork, now in conjunction with the FA and the new St.Georges Park complex opening in Burton; the head coach must have a say on what must be done technically to improve England in terms of ball retention, possession and ball retrieval.  At times Italy had three people swarming over Ashley Young to win the ball back; this is something Spain do effectively also.

Next for England is the qualification for Brazil 2014 in Group H involving Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro Moldova and San Marino. Whilst we should qualify as group winners and worst make a play-off, the away trips will be a big test of character for much of the squad.  Whilst we will not win the World Cup, and no European team has ever won a World Cup when it has been held in the Southern Hemisphere (you can include both Mexico World Cups in that also); the omens may not look good but then they did not four weeks ago.  Roy did the best he could do and so he should be applauded for that, having served himself with such distinction and class thus far.

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