England’s going home

Everyone seems to know the score
They’ve seen it all before
They just know
They’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away
Gonna blow it away

England’s going home …

As the media celebrate heroes, the ultimate irony is we’ve just experienced another episode which the song “Football’s coming home” so bewails.
Yep, we were singing how we always end up doing something rubbish at tournaments, and again we’ve thrown it away.  Well, an appearance in the final anyway.

And we’re back to what we’re used to.
Missing in front of goal and giving up on the importance of possession.

And the analysis remains woeful.  As extra time began, it was about heart and belief.

Having been the better side  in the first half, and having missed all those chances, we should have seen that Croatia would change, and we needed to change too, in a way that gave our players the opportunity to close down.  Instead, we kept pumping long balls way to long runs and we kept giving the ball away.

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Take stock of England and their progress in the World Cup

The hype is back.  Media and commentators cannot leave it alone, and here are the latest examples.
1. England have exceeded expectations.  True, but only because the groups draw suggested that England would meet Brazil or Germany in the quarter-finals.
2. England’s players have been heroes.  False.  It’s only football.  But even in football terms, heroism comes when beating a side with a track record.  Circumstances means England can only now be heroic by beating France.
3. England’s players have been brilliant.  Bit unfair cos this has tended be a recent view from cheerleaders rather than football analysts.  Watch the Irish tv pundits and read the Guardian analysts for a more sober analysis.  But we know all our players have or have demonstrated flaws in this tournament with the possible exception of Kane.
4. England usually make us suffer in these competitions.  False.  The media make us suffer.  OK, Southgate has been a step above in being clear on his best formation and special tactics given the players available, and then tweaked selection to fit the plans.
5. The whole country is behind them.  False.  Viewing figures are still below half of England’s population, and once again, the failure to be sensitive to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So why should we be proud of England in this tournament?
– In every game (except the England reserves – Belgium reserves game), England has gone out to attack, attacked with some potential of scoring in those attacks and that makes watching them so much more enjoyable.  And it is a change – we’re talking England, and the FA who in putting out their top 10 England competitive moments, put scoring a penalty as 2 of them
– The special teams play.  That great story – that Southgate met top US basketball teams to find out players can move in confined spaces when heavily marked.

England will beat Croatia by at least 2 goals.  True.  Well, opinion.  I’m actually prepared to go along with this one, not least cos everybody qualifies it with recognition for Croatia’s strengths.  But our players are commercially valued as worth twice as much, have developed a special teams approach with the ability to punch through a defence from set-pieces, the form has been improving, we have Harry Kane, and Trippier and Maguire, and Croatia have had longer games and look more tired.  Croatia do have an advantage in having more experienced players, and their midfield may well overwhelm Henderson (no criticism implied), but the punditry on Croatia has either been respectful, or passed them by, rather than announce that they’re not very good.

Expectations of England

20180707o 30 England Sweden Gdn 3000 aa0150h 20180707o 58 England Sweden Gdn 2962 aa0150hSo now England expects. A 2-goal win (the second from a 2 minute passage of possession) and a clean sheet (with the newish goalkeeper making 3 excellent saves).
Soon the pundits were talking about the final.

England have built nicely. Unbeaten for a year.
A recent switch to 3-5-2, built 3 strong central defenders and 2 very attacking wing-backs.
Using younger players with previous success that Southgate knows well.
The genius of Kane. Special use of set-plays, using aerial dominance.
Picking a team, using good players with special abilities – Young and Trippier’s crossing, Stones and Maguire’s heading, Sterling’s dribbling, Lingard’s running. A goalkeeper who’s better at passing the ball out.

So thank heavens for the scepticism of Irish television pundits and Guardian writers; and probably, Gareth Southgate himself.
The passing can still be woeful. The ball is still bouncing off players. Build-ups towards goal can peter out very easily. Returning to saves being punched out rather than away.

So why the new confidence? Cos we know more of our players than theirs. Cos we know our players are better (e.g. rated as worth more – seven times Sweden’s, twice Croatia’s). Cos we’ve won 4 matches and a penalty shoot-out. Cos the 4 wins came against sides who were happier to sit back. Cos the media are pumping us up.

And cos we can all see England can continue to grow

Colombian fans aren’t daft

“Colombian fans want FIFA to review the game as they felt a number of refereeing decisions went against them”.
No they don’t. 293,000 might have signed a petition, but the country has a population of 49 million (just 6 million less than England).
Two claims – it wasn’t a penalty and a goal scored after the whistle went should have stood.
“1) Penalty a favor de Inglaterra, por una falta inexistente y que fue evidentemente juzgada de manera errónea por el arbitro FIFA Mark Geiger.
“2) Gol legitimo de Carlos Bacca, en una jugada en donde el arbitro juzgo de manera errónea que había ilegitimidad al considerar que al producirse el gol, habían dos balones dentro del terreno de juego, cosa que las cámaras de televisión comprobaron, NO FUE CORRECTAMENTE JUZGADO.”
There has been stuff on the internet expecting us to buy into the grief and ignorance of foreigners at times of defeat, but really, the grief is not that remarkable. A video of 10,000 German fans in an indoor full-sized football stadium saw them quietly walk out when they lost. A video of Columbian fans as their team lose on penalties is remarkable only for its ordinariness, a really nice shot of fans leaving down a wide stadium corridor singing a rather fine song, and a bar being mightily stirred up by a Leeds fan aggressively bouncing through a placid viewing room.
No – the people who are wound up are the commentators and analysts. Bizarre examples included –
– citing England vs Colombia as being as bad at 1962 Chile vs Italy”. Just nowhere close.
– complaining about Colombian melodramatics and the violent head butt against Henderson, when it was shoving, Henderson had been provoking and he had that tell-tale delay in falling.
– them yelling at England players not to be wound up.
– huge condemnation for a foul on Young, when from another angle, they then had to acknowledge that Young might have been at fault.
Now I’ve really come to admire Maguire, although Stones less so in the last match.  But both did some naughty things. “Oh, they didn’t mean it.”
It is a bit racist. It can blind us, we England fans, to our failings.

I still think there is too much that is random in international football to be assured of predicting a result; England are still too prone to letting the ball bounce off them.
Just nice to see the England team developing, growing and getting ready for another match.

England worn down

020 England Columbia aa0160h 055 England Columbia aa0160h 090 England Columbia aa0160h 139 England Columbia Gdn 4524 aa0160h 140 England Columbia aa0160h
The second hardest runners in the competition, didn’t England look like it at the end of the match with Colombia. Worn down and worn out, the final passes long and missing.
But the first 25 minutes was of such intensity, that win or lose, you’d be proud of the team.
The finishing wasn’t quite there, the inside forward play didn’t create break-throughs and Colombia had 2 defenders who commanded in the air in their penalty box.
Still, they stupidly gave away a penalty; stupidly cos how many times has to been shown that hanging on to England forwards in the new age of VAR will cost you a penalty.
England were unlucky to concede when Trippier crouched to give power to his off-the-line header, only to be caught by spin on the ball taking the it higher.
England have come through a penalty competition and it feels the right result cos England tried harder to win.

What is not so credible is the outrage over Colombian conduct. Yes, Colombia were relying more on the dark arts, and crowding the ref is wrong, as is taking 3 minutes to allow a penalty to be started. But shoving and niggling was done by both sides, as was mis-timed tackles and bad appealing. The Barrios head-butt was a head-shove and a result of bad behaviour by both sides.
FIFA are not getting to grips with prolonged protesting and time-wasting. And subsequent action must be taken on the Colombian trainer charging Sterling at half-time.

I thought I would care

100 Theresa May Belgium shirt aa0168h  200 England Belgium match aa0169h  300 England Belgium match aa0168h
As if to emphasise how outmanoeuvred and out-thought we are in Europe, the Belgian PM gives Theresa May a Belgium football shirt before the England match and she doesn’t know what to do.
England did know what to do with largely a second XI, but it became clear that the 3-5-2 system needs exceptional punch to go around a midfield.  The second XI are not as good, but they weren’t that bad, just not exceptional and probably in need of the game.
Before the game, I was adamant we had to win – show no fear of a stronger half of the cup draw and continue the winning habit. After the defeat, the tactic seems wise, although we could have done without weaknesses in the goalkeeping being exposed.

England 6 Panama 1

201806241500 england panama 6 goals ab0576h
Chances created well and taken well.
Optimism says –
Goal 1: good cross from corner kick into space created; header executed well.
Goal 2: direct run into the box; foul; emphatic penalty kick.
Goal 3: free-running and triangles; excellent curling shot into the top corner.
Goal 4: intelligent free-kick with wall pass/cross to players behind the wall; intelligent headed cross across goal and headed follow-up to excellent save.
Goal 5: corner kick again creating panic; ref. spots the slam-dunk and awards penalty kick; emphatic penalty kick.
Goal 6: a 25 pass move; vindication for years of practising back-heel chips from the 18 yard line.
Pessimism says –
Goal 1: Young obstructed a defender to allow the space to be created.
Goal 2: Lingard fell, and handled.
Goal 3: How many did Lingard have to miss before he scored?
Goal 4: England have had to give up on direct kicks; Stirling missed again.
Goal 5: England forwards are tangling themselves up.
Goal 6: 24 of the 25 passes were flat; a fluke.
Football pundits and tv presenters are too excited.  The control is still not there.  Still wayward passes from the back.
In summary: England have plenty to improve on.  But the special teams play is excellent and means they have the capability to beat better teams.

England should rest players for the Belgium game, but not the formation. So Dier for Henderson, Rose for Young; Loftus-Cheek for Alli; possibly Cahill for the Leicester centre-half. Victory should be the aim and subject to injury, the only change I’d make for the round of 16 is Dyer for Henderson. And I kinda get why no-one’s really talking about us getting past Brazil or Germany.