WC2014 France 3 – 0 Honduras

Crunch Time! The Hondurans demonstrate their 'robust' tackling style on Pauvre Petit Pogba

Crunch Time! The Hondurans demonstrate their ‘robust’ tackling style on Pauvre Petit Pogba

Oooof! That Was Painful

Well it’s not as if we hadn’t had some kind of an early warning about this. Engerland’s ‘friendly’ with the Hondurans gave ample insight into their sadly not unique playground brutality, not least when the Ox was taken out of the tournament after a particularly petulant encounter.  And while some may pine for the era of Chopper Harris and the legitimate ‘welcome’ from behind, this kind of behaviour has no place in the world of dilettante multi-millionaire playboy soccerstars.


Euro 2012: Day 15

Football Is Chess Played By Stupid People: Spain 2 – 0 France

Now loads of people have come down on Spain. They are apparently too lovely for their own good, they play beautiful, if often unthreatening football, they have won too often, they don’t allow other teams to beat them, they are boring and they win everything. Oh and they don’t give crappier teams a chance and they don’t let others score goals against them. So naturally it’s all the Spaniards’ fault.

Really the onus is on all the other sides to find a way around the Spanish gameplan. Not for the Spaniards to dumb down their play to accommodate the failings of the rest of the world. And given it’s taken Mourinho, who has the strongest alternative footballing philosophy, the best part of three seasons (and umpteen Classicos) in Spain to even challenge the might of Barcelona, it’s no surprise that the rest of the world has taken a while to get to grips with Spain’s success.

Latest to try was former world great France. Their previous period of dominance has culminated in just over a decade of catastrophic failure, infighting and acrimony. This campaign has been conducted with an undercurrent of bitterness, rancour and loathing that has been scarcely believeable, with players like Ben Arfa, Ribery, Malouda, Benzema and particularly Nasri being accused of not pulling their weight. With team solidarity like that it was no surprise that France bottled it, preferring to play a bizarre containment game before going one down, then failing to put together a meaningful attack for the rest of the game.

From Spain’s perspective their plan worked perfectly. They wore France down, pulling them all over the pitch, destroying their will, before breaking down the left, beating the two right backs Blanc had inexplicably deployed, before Xabi Alonso headed the ball into a practically unguarded net. Despite the introduction of Nasri, who barely even touched the ball, France had no response.

This might not have been a harem-scarem match like yesterday’s Germany Greece match, but from the Spanish perspective this was a perfect plan immaculately executed. The question for the rest of the world remains, Whatchagonna do about it?

Euro 2012: Day 12

The Roar Is On: Engerland 1 – 0 Ukraine

It is now clear what the answer to the Hodgson Conundrum is. Given his late entry as manager it was unclear what his general tactical approach would be. After two friendlies and two group stage matches a few things have become clear. He favours a cautious defensive opening, preferring to absorb pressure rather than actively probe and worry the opposition. However, when the team breaks, they are most successful breaking fast, using the wings and putting balls into the box rather than attempting to romance the ball into the net. And so far it’s been relatively effective.

Friendly wins against Norway and Belgium, both of whom appeared to be on their way on holiday, set the tone. Crafty, technical football was conspicuous by its absence, dour, obstinate hoofery more than apparent. None of which has been challenged by the first two group games. Both were filled with long periods of ball chasing, poor possession and control, compact, well disciplined defending and very occasional offensive manoeuvres. Yet they are still grinding out results – one of the signs of champions.

Today they had more than enough to deal with the Ukrainian threat. They were effective at absorbing the inevitable Ukraine pressure. The hosts were, after all, playing to stay in the tournament so were committed to pushing forward. And yet again the goal came from a cross, this time from the right and an easy header tap in from Rooney. After that it was shut the gate, hoof the ball and watch as the Ukrainians exhausted themselves.

That’s How To Do Collapsing: France 0 – 2 Sweden

You have to love the French. At the start of the game they had undoubtedly qualified, while the Swedes had nothing but pride to play for. So inevitably it was the French who collapsed. Armed with what appeared to be their most creative side (as opposed to the one most geared to getting a result), France should have been a joy to watch. After all, the combined attacking talents of Ben Arfa, Nasri, Ribery and Benzema should be enough to set even the calmest pulses racing. Yet if there’s one quality that all four appear to share it is a failure to really live up to their reputations in the really big games. Or to be blunt, all four flatter to deceive. Nasri had one glorious 3 month period 18 months ago, before largely enjoying Man City’s championship winning season from the bench. Ben Arfa has been occasionally sensational for Newcastle, but he is frustratingly inconsistent. While both Ribery and Benzema have shone in their domestic leagues, but come up short in the really big games.

No such misery for Sweden’s Ibrahimovic. Fresh off the first season in 8 years when he hasn’t won the domestic league wherever he has played, he did for the French with a spectacular scissor volley from just inside the box. After that France seemed to get into a huff and strop off at least 45 minutes before the final whistle.

It makes you wonder. How is it that Engerland can be so poor, yet are going through as group winners? How is it that Sweden can be so effective against France, yet couldn’t defend against Engerland or Ukraine? And why, oh why are France going through when they play as badly as that.

Euro 2012: Day 8

Laugh? I Nearly Died: Engerland 3 – 2 Sweden

Who me guv? Walcott gives detailed explanation of his equaliser against the Swedes. Like all good fish tales this one gets bigger every time it’s told.

OK, as the Prem drowns in acres of new money having sold its soul for over £1billion a year, Engerland brought a little bit of the Prem excitement to Euro 2012. For this must be one of the most exciting games the Euros have ever seen. Indeed you might say it was Excitement 10, skills, quality, football ability, tactics, uncle Tom Cobley and all a big fat zero.

Given Engerland matches now follow a script as predictable as a Michael Bay movie, it’s strange that I find them such onerous affairs. Frankly I should just give up caring. The games go like this. A dull, cagey first 15 or so, with Engerland playing it uselessly round the back (as if they haven’t quite understood that the point of playing it around the back is to pull the opposition out of place and give you attacking options). Amazingly Engerland somehow conjour up a goal out of nothing, somewhere around the 20 – 30 minute mark. Amazed at their own success (what a great wheeze they think, we’ve scored) and a-drunk on their own exhileration, Engerland fall back behind their own 18 yard line, lose all coherence and adopt their famous ‘desperate defending’ posture. Inevitably the opposition score, either just before half time or soon afterwards. If Engerland are in one of their really dire moods the opposition will score again. At this point the timelines diverge and either Engerland go on to lose (often on penalties), or even more amazingly than anything that has happened before, they actually score some more goals.

God must really hate the Swedes. They probably didn’t deserve to lose to Ukraine, but the latter desperately needed their fairytale. They certainly didn’t deserve to lose to Engerland. Once they’d scored Engerland played undoubtedly the worst football of any team in any game this tournament. It appeared as if they’d just drafted in 10 people, given them Engerland shirts and told them to get out there for the second half. It was amazing Sweden only scored two and it was impressive that Engerland actually got as many as no chances during this period. Honestly, it was bury your head and think of anything but Engerland time.

A lot will be made of Walcott’s introduction, his excellent goal and his overall contribution to Engerland’s victory, and in scoring one, setting up the winner and almost laying on a fourth (only for Greedie Stevie to steal it off the Ox’s toe and then hit it against the keeper) there’s much to commend. But it was equally important to rid the team of the irksome Milner and try to convince Johnson that his place (as a right back) is RIGHT BACK in defence.

It wasn’t all Engerland. Sweden suffer the same frailties as Portugal, being the sum of one player and a bunch of pals (or in Ibra’s case, not pals at all). Ibra failed, once again, to deliver on the really big stage and it is highly amusing that he will leave the tournament having scored fewer goals than his chief irritant Mellburg.

That Was So Electric: France 2 – 0 Ukraine

Too much potential for humour here as an electrical storm of impressive stature delayed the match for an hour. The rain in Spain falls mainly on Ukraine it appears. France were electrified. Après moi le deluge etc etc.

The Ukrainian fairytale fell off a cliff as France first controlled, then killed the game. Not even Sheva could save them, although he’ll have a much better chance against Engerland should they play as badly as they did today. France pretty much secure qualification as it seems unlikely that the fighting Swedes will put up much resistance (and if Engerland can beat them then the French should put them to the sword).

It seems that the French have finally emerged from the malaise of their last three tournaments, where they went from crown princes to clowns in the space of three group matches in 2002 and then managed to make that farrago look like a well disciplined campaign as they famously imploded in World Cup 2010. Now they look like a proper side again, although Nasri, Ribery and Evra are still very annoying petulant gits. But perhaps most astonishingly almost a third of their best side now play for Newcastle.

Euro 2012: Day 4

The Trundle Is On! Engerland 1 – 1 France

Cartoon version of England's brave ex-leader John Terry

Frankly that was as good as many people had hoped. Engerland ‘did a Chelsea’, a phrase that has surely already become the cliché  of the tourney, and successfully denied France the victory they so possibly deserved. Quite where this stalemate of a game falls within the panoply of the first round of matches is uncertain, but it’s probably somewhere between the ho-hummery of Spain Italy and the action pack that was Poland Greece. So, nothing spectacular to get excited about.

Both teams flattered to deceive in a match that followed the classic Engerland international pattern almost to the letter. Boring and cagey first half hour, albeit with Engerland passing the ball about a little more confidently than usual to the same non-effect as normal, astonishingly surprising Engerland goal against the run of play, haphazard retreat into shell following shock at having taken the lead, loss of lead, insipid substitutions, backs to the wall chaos of Engerland defending for the last half hour, all back to the pub for a night on the lash. France played the part of irritated floozy with a series of consistent ‘take one for the team’ fouling and annoyingly talented ball play (albeit to the same non-effect as Engerland’s hefferlump play). Ribery, as is his wont, vanished for large periods, Benzema never really got going and Nasri did what only he can by irritating not only the English, but his own fans.

This is an Engerland side that plays to its admittedly very limited strengths. Uncle Roy has had 2 pieces of luck, which he would do well to bank now. First, almost no one expects this team to win anything, certainly not with a midfield that consists of a back passer and a hollywood hoofballer. Second, thanks to Lampard’s unfortunate injury he’s been spared the never-ending pain of the Gerrard/Lampard Conundrum (a logic bomb that has been baffling scientists since the early 1990’s). It’s a shame it wasn’t Gerrard who was injured as he is so much less effective in the middle. Admittedly he has chanced his arm by bringing the likes of Downing and Henderson along, the latter was astonishingly actually given pitch time although as is normal he failed to register as much as a touch.

A draw kind of suits both sides, but they will have to play with a bit of aggression if they want to get out of this group.

That Was A Game That Was. Ukraine 2 – 1 Sweden

Every tourney needs a story as the old journo proverb goes. In Japan/South Korea it was the Koreans, in South Africa it was the Ghanaians, in Switzerland/Austria it wasn’t either of them, which only goes to prove the validity of the rhyme. After Poland’s South Africaesque failure draw on the opening day, it needed something special from Ukraine to ignite the tournament. And, thankfully, against all the odds (they have been the undisputed worst side in the last two international tournaments) Ukraine delivered.

This was a battle between two great Milan strikers, both of whom are probably past their best. In the Sweedish corner you have the enigma of Ibrahimovic, just coming off his first non-Championship winning season in 7 years; while in the Ukrainian one the Chelsea striking enigma that was Schevchenko, who has spent the last couple of years simply preparing for this big day.

In games like this sometimes the football just doesn’t matter, it’s the spectacle, the occasion and the sheer drama of it all. And while this didn’t quite deliver in the way that Aguero’s last second strike did at Man City, this time it was a whole country rather than half a city that was energised. In the end it was the Ibra Sheva show, just as planned. Ibra struck first, only for Sheva to equalise, before Ibra let Sheva run right the way round him to head in the winner. Cue Ukrainian meltdown as the entire country went off their heads with joy.  Pure football magic.

What We Learned From Engerland vs France (1-2)

There Were Positives

Andy Carroll hurrumphs his way past two of the French, sadly to no avail

Impressively for a match where Engerland were out-thought, outplayed, out-passed, outclassed and generally outed as a pile of out of date clodhoofers, there were actually positive things we can take from the game. It was, for instance, good that Engerland played a largely young and experimental side in a friendly that fundamentally wasn’t about the result but about the way we got there. It was exactly the right place to try out the likes of Carroll, Henderson, Young and Gibbs to see if they could step up from the Under 21 squad; it was exactly the right place to see whether certain semi-established players like Barry, Milner, Adam Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Walcott, and Foster were capable of raising their game and dominating their position; and it was exactly the right place to test whether the big players, Ferdinand and Gerrard still had it in them to be genuinely world class. It was the right place to test out Crapello’s tactics and gameplan against a side that, while also rebuilding, brought a level of skill and ability that Engerland can only aspire to.

Shame Shit Different Day

Sadly, Engerland flunked pretty much all the tests. As a whole, the team performed with a tactical naivety and incompetence that will see them swiftly eliminated from any serious championship, assuming always that the flaws are not so great that we actually make it that far. It was the same sorry story we saw recently against Montenegro and so many other matches before then.

An inability to accurately pass the ball to a colleague, an inability to effectively control balls lumped up from the back, an inability to work the ball through midfield, failure of movement off the ball, failure of ambition. In fact a general level of failure that was utterly depressing.

There. I’ve said it before and so it was again. To all that can be added a total lack of pressure off the ball when the opposition has possession. France were given this game by an Engerland side seemingly content to hoof-n-hope it to them every time it had possession, and happy to let the French midfield advance to the edge of the area before beginning to put them under any kind of pressure. It was almost as if they’d been told there was a 3 metre exclusion zone around the French players. You don’t win games by only beginning to impose yourself in your own penalty area.

Tactically, We Don’t Have A Clue

Tactics are the manager’s responsibility. He sets the shape of the team and dictates how it plays. Crapello seems to set his sides up as 4-3-3 or possibly 4-4-1-1, but it’s abundantly clear that this isn’t how Engerland play. When we have the ball we play a mysterious 4-0-1 formation whereby the entire midfield goes missing and balls are artlessly hoofed to the ‘big man’ at the front who is magically supposed to do something with it (and inevitably fails), while when we’re defending we crumple to a 9-0-1 formation lining up like compliant little mice on the edge of our area ceding possession and initiative to the opposing team.

Now, unless he is clinically insane, stupid or diabolical enough to actually want Engerland to lose, there’s no way Crapello actually sets up the team to play this way. He’s intelligent enough to realise that you can’t play playground hoofstyle and expect to win anything more elevated than the Johnson’s Paint Trophy (and that’s probably an insult to the Johnson’s Paint Trophy). You win international matches by retaining possession and passing the ball to feet. Sure the occasional long pass works, but the percentages are against you. That’s why when they do work they look impressive. But, fundamentally, they’re best played against slower sides who maintain a high defensive line. Not against the French.

Somewhere between Crapello’s mouth and the players’ brains something goes horribly, horribly wrong. At some point in the first five minutes of the match everything they’ve discussed gets lost. You can almost see it happening. During the first two or possibly five minutes of an international Engerland play genuinely international class football. We pass the ball to feet when we have possession (admittedly not that well and usually just around the back four) and we press the opposition when we don’t to try and recover the ball. Then, suddenly, it’s gone. The first judders of fear appear, confidence evaporates and we start hoofing it all over the shop. From then on we are merely reacting to events rather than instigating them.

On the showing of the first half Engerland were lucky to emerge with naught. We created nothing, barely got the ball beyond the halfway line and, if we did, it quickly cannoned back to the French. They displayed neat, intelligent interplay, primarily orchestrated by Nasri and Malouda, who don’t seem to have become incompetent simply because they play in the Premiership. The goal, a sweet piece of defence splitting interplay between Malouda and Benzema (who can’t buy an appearance never mind a goal against Spanish defences), simply illustrated the gulf in class between the sides.

The second half was marginally better, if only because the French sat back and relaxed, had some lunch, admired the beauty that is Wemberley Stadium, did some shopping and only vaguely bothered to attend to the pestilence that was the Engerland team. Sure they were still bothered enough to ‘get a spare’ when Sagna, who also doesn’t seem to have become useless by playing in England, trotted down the right and crossed the ball into the box. It helped that there were two attacking midfielders there to turn the ball in (more than Engerland accomplished in total on the night) and that Lescott was painfully out of position.

Did Anyone Emerge With Credit?

Well, the new boys will have learnt a lot.

Carroll will have learnt that, like Crouch, his very height and size count against him at this level, playing in to the worst tendencies of the English mindset. Because he’s tall let’s just lob balls aimlessly at him because he’s bound to be able to keep possession in that physical English way that never works internationally. Let’s not give him beautiful passes to run on to, or support him in any way. Hell let’s try not even having anyone else in the same half as him when we fling balls at him as hard as we possibly can, then blame him when he can’t create any chances. He will have learnt that the England no 9 is a lonely space where you don’t even have the luxury of harrying about trying to win possession. You are the point of a spear whose staff has gone missing.

Gibbs will have learnt that he’s not quite in Ashley Cole’s class just yet. However, he was left with no defensive cover from either Milner or Lescott when Sagna overlapped him and ran in to cross for the second. To be honest he had no defensive support all evening. As he showed on his previous Engerland outing he’s an accomplished left back and great cover for Cole, but he’s not genuinely international class.

Henderson, however, will be ruing his call up. He had a miserable evening in total contrast to his performance against Chelsea only 4 days previously. As a defensive midfielder he was playing in the celebrated Makelélé position, or in the English vocabulary the Hargreaves role, and he struggled. The French, being sneaky, simply played sightly ahead of him or between him and the back four. Meanwhile Engerland proceeded to sabotage his evening by not passing to him and on the rare occasions when he did have the ball by not giving him any passing options (about the only thing they did effectively all evening). He will go back to the Under 21s where he’s genuinely appreciated for their European Championships next year but could return to Engerland for 2012. Given he’s probably going to go to Man United sometime soon he’s definitely one for the future.

Ashley Young, who’s been on the periphery of the squad won’t have done his chances any harm by coming on in the second half. In contrast to Walcott, who still seems impotent at this level as a wide man and was starved of service, Young harried more and did more with the ball when he had possession. With some help from midfield and support up front he might actually have caused the French a problem.

The middleweights pretty much all flunked out. None of Walcott, Milner, Jagielka, Lescott or Barry did anything to enhance their reputations. Barry in particular is looking like a total waste of space. It’s unclear what role he performs and he doesn’t seem to be making any kind of contribution to the side. Walcott and Milner were both starved of service from defence and support in midfield. And when they did get forward to support Carroll there seemed to be no connection or understanding between them, Walcott would be looking for the Arsenal pass, while Milner would be trying to Man City it. Lescott provided no support to his flanks and was ineffective. Jagielka was much better when played as a central defender (his normal position) rather than as a right back.

Stevie G had what for him is becoming a normal Engerland performance. He was rubbish. He didn’t stabilise midfield, didn’t support going forward and was most notable for his continued tendency to attempt the 40 yard ‘hail mary’ pass at every opportunity, gifting possession back to the French on pretty much each occasion. No style, quality or leadership.

Franz Ferdinand was possibly the only player to have come out of this without a damaged reputation. He was merely adequate, doing what he was supposed to with the minimum of skill. However, he was also responsible for the hoof-n-hope tendency, far too often playing long balls out of defence rather than trying to play down the middle.

Adam Johnson showed a disturbing tendency to believe his own hype by trying to win the game singlehanded when a pass to a teammate might have been preferable. Richards added more attack when he was played, correctly, at right back. His work with Johnson on the right showing what Man City might achieve there if only they were both being played regularly.

And Crouch showed what everyone has suspected for a while, he’s got a great touch for a big guy. Which only goes to reiterate pretty much everything that’s wrong about the Engerland mentality. In that strange world they call home and we call ‘Abroad’, they’d simply say he’s got a great touch.

It Was A Great Game For

Jack Wilshere. Missing through injury he might almost have played himself into the heart of the Engerland midfield.

And Let’s Not Forget

Spain, the World Champions, played a friendly as well. They lost 4-0 to Portugal.