Another England loss has familiar mantra | Soccer | CBC Sports

Euro CupAnother England loss has familiar mantra

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2012 | 07:55 PM

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Several English players, including Steven Gerrard, front, suffer a heartbreaking loss to Italy during the quarter-finals of the European championship Sunday in Kiev. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images) Several English players, including Steven Gerrard, front, suffer a heartbreaking loss to Italy during the quarter-finals of the European championship Sunday in Kiev. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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After punching above their weight for most of the tournament by playing a boring, structured game, England bows out of a major competition by, let's say, losing in penalties.
Tell me if you've heard this one before.

After punching above their weight for most of the tournament by playing a boring, structured game, England bows out of a major competition by, let's say, losing in penalties.

Sound familiar? It should. England lost to Portugal in the same fashion at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. It has sort of become their thing.

Their opponent, this go around, was Italy, which dominated the play for 90 minutes of regular time and another 30 minutes of extra time.

The Three Lions only managed nine attempts on net compared to the Azzuri's 35 takes on goal. England time and again found itself lucky to escape disaster with Italy hitting all three bars behind goalkeeper Joe Hart, with Mario Balotelli missing from in close on a couple of occasions and Italy even having a goal called back due to an off-side in the waning moments of the extra time period.

It would have been cruel for the final result had it not gone Italian's way, as they cruised to a 4-2 penalty win.

Substance over style debate

The storyline may have been familiar for England but at Euro 2012's only scoreless match, there were some takeaways - namely, the substance over style debate.

In the lead up to this match England's players were quoted as saying that they wanted to play a more creative, free-flowing style, as opposed to the rigid bunker and counter attack method applied by England head coach Roy Hodgson.

The thinking by the players being that it is better to go down fighting and put in a good show rather than crawl in a hole and wait out the shelling that will ensure. It has become the way of England in recent years.

As they've slowly come around to the realization that they are no longer a superpower in the world of football, that they aren't as technically adept as their opponents, they've cottoned to a just-try-to-compete attitude. Or, as the football linguists have come to call it in recent years, negative tactics.

England's boring mantra

It's the act of not playing the game but rather seeking to disrupt it. In England's case, that meant playing tight, compact defence while waiting for a glimmer of light to emerge in the counter attack. It's boring, uninspired and it is quickly become their mantra.

Better to not take any risks and hope for a win, rather than play for glory and look foolish doing it. But the thing is, England is full of talented, creative players.

Theo Walcott, when he's allowed to, can run at any defender in the world and be a threat on goal. Wayne Rooney, when his blinders are taken off, can thread passes all over the pitch and go on spectacular, galloping 40-yard runs.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, when he sees the pitch, has solidity to him that few have at the young age of 18-years-old. His confidence and poise reflect a calm mind - one that is capable of doing much more than simple one-twos. But, when he does have the ball at his feet, you can also see his creativity is stifled. Clearly wanting to do something clever, something flighty, the nagging negative tactics kick in and he plays it safe.

That's what England did Sunday against Italy. They played it safe. Pip-pip, heads up,  stiff upper lip and all that. Some will say that they went out and worked with what they had.

In reality though, they might not be able to compete with the Spains and Germanys in terms of depth, but with a stable of young, creative players being kept under such close lock and key, it's hard not to think they are capable of so much more.

But England is once again out in the quarter-finals after putting in an uninspired, albeit organized performance. So, in terms of storylines, I guess all is right with the world.

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