The first post for a while, after the catastrophe that was Euro 2016 and what can only really be described as the Allardyce Experiment.
However, things are relatively back to normal: three wins in four World Cup qualifiers so far, all of which have also resulted in clean sheets. But as I’ve written so many times before, the qualifiers aren’t the problem…
It’s a few days after one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of English international football. Roy Hodgson resigned after the Iceland game, some of the candidates that have been mentioned as a replacement have either already done the job (Glenn Hoddle), don’t want to do it (Gareth Southgate) or perhaps aren’t ready for it just yet (Eddie Howe).
The warning signs were there however and the excellent Barrie’s View sent us this breakdown – which is probably the correct term in both senses – of England’s performance not only in Euro 2016, but also in tournaments generally.
1 – England are the only nation to have both won a game from behind (vs Wales) and lose a game after taking the lead (vs Iceland). The 2-1 loss to Iceland is the only match at Euro 2016 where a team has taken the lead and trailed at half-time.
3 – England and Portugal collected the fewest yellow cards in the tournament of teams to reach the second round (3 each). Fair play award?
12 – England’s loss to Iceland was their first at a European Championship finals since 2004 when we lost our opening group game versus France, also 2-1 after taking the lead.
13 – Harry Kane has had the most shots at Euro 2016 of players not to score. The Tottenham striker had a woeful tournament in France having just won the Premier League Golden Boot.
20% – England have progressed in only two of their last 10 knockout matches at major finals tournaments (vs Denmark at the 2002 World Cup and Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup).
27% – Roy Hodgson won only three of his 11 games in charge of England at major tournaments (D5 L3). He even won two of his first three games in charge meaning he only beat Wales in his last eight tournament games.
50% – Joe Hart has saved only half of the shots he has faced in the last two major international tournaments combined (1/5 in Brazil and 7/11 in France).
56 – Despite attempting 56 more shots than their opponents, England scored as many goals as we conceded (4).
90 – Iceland have won more knockout games in 90 minutes at European Championships than England ever have.
1996 – England have only ever progressed from one tie in the knockout stages at European Championship finals (vs Spain at Euro 96).
Stats provided by football stat man Barrie’s View
Several points to make today.
Despite the best efforts of the so-called Russian ‘Ultras’ a couple of weeks ago, England are still in the competition and have a golden opportunity to reach the quarter finals this evening.
I don’t want to denigrate Iceland, but they’re the weakest team left in the competition and they’ve never beaten us. On the other hand, they’ve scored in both of their previous encounters with us and have scored in all of their games in Euro 2016. This evening’s game may not be as comfortable as a lot of people are expecting.
However, there are some obvious issues on the pitch and with hindsight it was obvious that some of those were clear before the tournament started. In no particular order:
- I’m not entirely sure why Roy Hodgson felt he needed to makes six changes from the team that only just beat Wales – I’ll assume that rotation came into it somewhere, along with a possible underestimation of how good the Slovaks are. I said they’d be tough to beat in the preview and in the context of Wales & Germany both beating them, our goalless against Slovakia indicates that we may not have it our own way in the World Cup qualifiers.
- I’m not going to look it up, but there’s ample evidence that losing a game in the group stage isn’t usually a problem if you’re a good team. We beat Wales, yet our neighbours won the group with a tremendous performance against a Russian team that England should have beaten. As I wrote in the preview, the minimum expectation was to qualify for the next round as winners of Group B. That’s not happened.
- Don’t expect any more late goals in England’s games in Euro 2016 from now on. The late Russian equaliser was cancelled out by Sturridge’s winner against Wales.
Overall, it’s difficult to say how well – or otherwise – this tournament is going. Taking everything into account, England are probably one of the top sixteen teams in Europe, if not one of the top eight. But make no mistake: Iceland will relish the prospect of being an underdog in a one off game.
Here we are again: the tournament starts this evening, England are playing tomorrow and according to the bookies the path to glory in France should end with yet another defeat in the quarter finals. We’ve got to get out of the group first, so let’s take one step at a time.
RUSSIA (8pm tomorrow, ITV1 and Radio 5 Live)
Despite having Fabio Capello in charge for part of the campaign – the Russian FA bought out his ludicrously expensive contract – Russia qualified as runners up from a weak group that included Montenegro (remember them?), Liechtenstein and Moldova. However, they’ve only won twice in their six friendlies since then: a late winner from Roman Shirokov was enough to beat Portugal last November and mighty Lithuania were swept aside in March. Most recently, they’ve taken the lead and lost in games against both the Czech Republic and Serbia. All but one of the team (Roman Neustaedter – who was also eligible to play for Germany, Ukraine and Kazakhstan) play in Russia and seven of them played for champions CSKA Moscow last season. If you’re as old as I am, that looks suspiciously like the way the Soviet Union used to do things.
We’ve only played Russia twice: both games were in the unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2008 European Championships and we lost by the odd goal in three in Moscow back in October 2007.
Player to watch: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit). Leading scorer during qualification and second highest Russian native goalscorer in the Russian Premier League last season. Dzyuba and Hulk have formed an impressive partnership at club level but Dzyuba may have to manage on his own in this tournament.
WALES (2pm Thursday 16th June, BBC1, S4C and Radio 5 Live)
Apart from the brief but confusing period a few months ago when Wales were ranked higher in the FIFA rankings, it’s fair to say that England have been the best team of the four in Group B for some time.
Wales’ meteoric rise started when Chris Coleman took over the job in exceptionally trying circumstances following the death of Gary Speed in November 2011. Their form going into the tournament has been poor: one win in the last six (against mighty Andorra) and they’ve been shut out by both Ukraine and Sweden in their last two matches. Nine of the squad played for teams in the Sky Bet Championship last season – and six of those players were playing for clubs that finished in the bottom half of the second tier
Next week’s game will be the 103rd meeting between England and Wales, but only the fifth game between us since the turn of the century and the first ever match outside the UK. The last time Wales scored against England was in May 1984, when Mark Hughes scored the only goal of the game in the last ever meeting in the old Home International Championship.
Player to watch who isn’t Gareth Bale: Ashley Williams (Swansea). Ever present during the qualification campaign and only Chris Gunter of Reading has won more caps as a defender. Next season will be his tenth at Swansea: they were in League One when he joined them.
SLOVAKIA (8pm Monday 20th June, ITV)
One defeat in their last ten games indicates that the Slovaks are going to be tough to beat. With the possible exception of Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik and Martin Skrtel of Liverpool, they don’t have any ‘household names’ in the side, but they’re exactly the sort of combination of locally based players and exports who tend to do well in international competition (think of the South American teams that aren’t Argentina or Brazil). Only three of the squad play in the Slovak Super Liga but with four players with Serie A clubs and two (Dusan Svento and Peter Pekarik) playing in the Bundesliga, they are no mugs.
This will be the fourth game against Slovakia: we’ve won the other three and beat them 4-0 in a friendly in March 2009. Get used to them: we were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group and face them again at the start of September.
Player to watch: Vladimir Weiss (Al-Garafa, Qatar). Still only 26, he’s in danger of becoming a journeyman due to his inability to last longer than a season at any particular club and these days seems to be in it for the money. Only missed two qualifiers and was part of the Slovakian squad that surprised everyone in the last World Cup: he could benefit from Hamsik getting all the defensive attention in midfield, which might reignite interest in him from the bigger European clubs.
…and finally ENGLAND
After a heavy dose of realism in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup, there are still a number of questions to be answered. Qualification from Group B as winners is the minimum expectation – isn’t it always – but we’ve not got past the quarter finals in any tournament for 20 years and that looks as if it might happen again. With that in mind, here are three questions that need answers:
- Who is Wayne Rooney’s long term replacement? Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford look like the obvious answers. Jamie Vardy is probably too old and Daniel Sturridge is too fragile. There’ll be issues with this group as soon as they come up against a well drilled defence and Rooney’s inability to score in tournament finals has always been an issue.
- Is the lack of defenders with international experience going to be a factor? Only Gary Cahill has more than 30 caps and four of the rest of the defensive players have a combined total of just 34 appearances in the full England squad.
- If this campaign turns into a disaster, how quickly will the FA react if they need to replace Roy Hodgson? If so, with whom?
I know that sounds negative, but there is another way of looking at this. Eleven players in the final 23 are 25 years old or younger and it’s clear that they should form the basis of the England team in the years to come. Furthermore, it’s actually refreshing not to have to write about John Terry and Rio Ferdinand or if Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can play in the same team.
It’s also worth remembering that since the last World Cup, England have only failed to win four of their 21 games and have only lost twice in that period – including a narrow defeat against one of the best sides in the world last November. I think there’s good reason to be optimistic about Euro 2016, but I’m not going to get carried away.
This tournament could be a big step in the right direction at the right time and that’s fine by me. Let’s see what happens.
The first thing to remember about the European Championships is that England haven’t performed particularly well in them.
Since Euro 96, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic have all done better at these tournaments than England have – basically because they’ve all qualified for them and we missed out in 2008. To put into perspective, our record over the last four tournaments is not quite as good as Turkey, who were beaten semi finalists eight years ago. Quite why we’re fourth favourites at the moment is beyond me.
France and Germany are currently joint favourites, presumably because the hosts and reigning World Champions will tempt some punters into backing them. Before parting with your money, there’s an immediate catch here though: France were the last host nation to win the competition, but that was in 1984 and in a tournament where there were two groups and the top two countries qualified for the semi finals. Germany haven’t won the Euros since 1996 – which is two decades ago.
Spain are third favourites, which considering they’re reigning champions of Europe and qualified having finished five points ahead of Slovakia is something of a surprise. Perhaps it’s because of the manner of their exit from the last World Cup, but you’d expect them to reach the quarter finals at the very least.
Albania are the rank outsiders, but I don’t see too much difference between France and Switzerland. The key game in the group could be the match between them (Sunday June 19th, BBC1, 8pm) but if Switzerland or Romania want to avoid Germany in the first knock out round then the meeting between those two (Wednesday June 15th, ITV, 5pm) may be the one to watch.
Pub Fact: at time of writing, only one of the Albanian squad has scored more than four goals in his international career. That’s Armando Sadiku, who plays in Switzerland for a FC Vaduz, who are based in Luxembourg.
Special post coming at the end of the week, but as a teaser the game between Wales and Slovakia (Saturday, 5pm, BBC1) should give us a clue about which team – all being well – should qualify with England. It may well be both of them.
Everyone expects Germany to qualify at a canter, so if Northern Ireland want to stand any chance of reaching the last sixteen they need to avoid defeat against Poland (Sunday, BBC1, 5pm). I think the Poles are a little bit overrated considering their tournament record whilst Ukraine should finish second.
Pub fact: despite being born within six months and 50 miles of each other within Poland, Lukas Podolski and Jakub Blaszczykowski will be playing for Germany and Poland respectively. Podolski was born about 18 miles from Katowice, a place that will be familiar with England fans of various ages.
Another group that features one of the big guns: Spain need to return to form. but if any group deserves the title of ‘Group Of Death’ it’s this one. There’s not much difference on paper between Croatia, the Czech Republic and Turkey which is why the clash between the Czechs and the Croats on Friday 17th June (5pm, BBC1) could be a vital one for both teams.
Pub fact: Croatian captain Dario Srna is the most capped outfielder in Group D and has scored almost as many goals for the Vatreni as David Silva has scored for Spain.
This is where it starts getting a bit daft. Belgium are supposedly the best team in Europe at the moment, but the Red Devils haven’t got past the group stages since 1980, when they were runners up. Compare that to the recent Italian record: in the last five tournaments, they’ve reached the knock out stages three times and were runners up twice. We’ll find very quickly writing off the Italians as an old team without any stars or experienced strikers is a bad idea: Monday 13th June, BBC1, 8pm.
Incidentally, according to the most recent FIFA rankings, the Belgium/Sweden game on Wednesday 22nd June (8pm, ITV4) is the one with the largest gap in the rankings for the entire tournament. I don’t think that’s how it’ll turn out though.
Pub Fact: Ireland‘s Robbie Keane has scored more international goals than Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Let’s just assume that Portugal win the group. After that, it’s anyone’s guess: Austria probably have their best chance of not being also-rans since the 1954 World Cup but they haven’t beaten another European country in a major finals since a memorable win over West Germany in Argentina almost 40 years ago. That leaves Hungary and Iceland: their game in Marseille on Saturday 18th June might be the one to watch if you’re looking for a surprise qualifier.
Pub fact: of the three players representing their countries in this tournament that have both won the most caps and scored the most goals, Ronaldo’s goal per game rate (.448) is higher than both Lukas Podolski (.377) and Tomas Rosicky (.217). All three have appeared at least 100 times for their respective countries.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Foster, Joe Hart, Tom Heaton
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand, Gary Cahill, Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Rose, Chris Smalling, John Stones, Kyle Walker
Midfield: Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Fabian Delph, Eric Dier, Danny Drinkwater, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Raheem Sterling, Andros Townsend, Jack Wilshere.
Attackers: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy.
Not much of a surprise here with Roy sticking to the usual formula. Only four players (Barkley, Heaton, Stones and Townsend) are from clubs outside the top ten of the Premier League although I’m not sure if I’d count both Heaton and Townsend as ‘Championship’ players as Burnley were promoted and Newcastle were relegated.
Once again, none of the squad plays his club football outside of England.
Eleven of this squad were chosen for the ill fated 2014 World Cup equivalent, although John Stones was on standby for that tournament. Only Cahill, Hart, Milner and Rooney were picked for the Euro 2012 squad.
The defenders look very inexperienced. Bertrand, Rose and Stones all have fewer than ten caps, with Walker having earned less than 20.
Hodgson clearly isn’t depending on his midfielders to score. Andros Townsend is the most prolific goalscorer from that group with three in 10 appearances. Having written that, it’s worth remembering that Roy still has to make three cuts and although we already know Marcus Rashford won’t make the final 23, Delph, Dier and Drinkwater may be amongst those facing the axe.
I think that this is the first tournament where we see who is the heir apparent to Wayne Rooney. Harry Kane is the obvious choice.
Want to feel old? Both Danny Rose and Jordan Henderson were born while the 1990 World Cup tournament was being held in Italy. Marcus Rashford was born ten days before the 0-0 draw with Italy in November 1997, when England qualified for France 98.
Today was supposed to be the day when Roy Hodgson announced the England squad for Euro 2016, but following yesterday’s unverified leak and the announcement that Danny Welbeck is out until the early part of 2017, the squad will now not be announced until Monday.
I’ll be back as soon as details are released on Monday.
Originally the idea was that we’d take a sabbatical after the 2014 World Cup: a rest after the worst English performance in the biggest tournament in the world seemed like a good idea. However after the draw for the Euro 2016 qualifying groups it seemed pretty obvious that England would qualify and so there didn’t seem to be much point getting too involved with those games: I wrote here that the qualifiers ‘…quite frankly should be a piece of cake and a bit of a joke.’
Ten wins and a goal difference of +28 justified that decision, but I’ve got to admit that the lack of activity here took me by surprise, especially as I’ve been regularly blogging elsewhere. So it’s time to make a reappearance.
Tomorrow Roy Hodgson will be announcing the squad for Euro 2016, even though there seems to have been quite a convincing leak doing the rounds on the social media. Looking back at the side that played Costa Rica two years ago in England’s last competitive game in the finals of a major competition compared with the team that lost 2-1 at home to the Netherlands, only Chris Smalling and Adam Lallana started in both.
So after two posts in almost two years, there’ll be two posts in as many days – with more to come in the build up for Euro 2016. Thank you for your patience. It’s good to be back.
New content (finally), including an affectionate tribute to Sepp Blatter and a post about how success in the qualifiers is no guarantee of success of finals.
Although I am not entirely sure that last one is a new topic…