Daniel Sturridge’s late winner snatched all three points for the Three Lions, but the win provides much to ponder for boss Roy Hodgson…
For England, Euro 2016 represents a fresh start. This is their first major tournament on the continental stage after the passage of the so-called ‘golden generation.’ In the lead up to the event as the squad shaped up, a noticeable aspect was the emphasis on youthful exuberance and a fearless approach that had certainly not been a feature of previous England sides. It was hoped this new look outfit would provide for a different England, A team that plays an exciting brand of football and takes the imitative to break open games.
This philosophy was persisted with in most of the Three Lions’ recent games. Indeed, in their first match against Russia,its Hodgson’s men started in much the same vein. However, a combination of heroic last-ditch defending and poor finishing meant that for all their domination the English could only muster one goal thanks to Eric Dier’s thunderous free-kick on 73 minutes. They paid for failing to convert their chances when towering centre-back Vasili Berezutski headed home in second half injury-time.
A closer look back at that game shows that far from anything the Russians did, it was Hodgson’s naïve and conservative substations that cost his side the points. Instead of trying to build on the lead the England manager substituted the talismanic presence of Wayne Rooney for Jack Wilshere to protect his slender advantage. That proved more than just a switch of personnel, as with Rooney’s departure the team lost its grip on midfield as well as the skipper’s calming presence. His failure to bring on Jamie Vardy to exploit an already tired Russian defence with his pace was equally mystifying. The consequent momentum switch saw Russia pile on the pressure in the final moments of the game inevitably resulting in the equalizer.
Ahead of their second game in the group against fierce rivals Wales, there was rightly much conjecture on whether England would stick or twist as far as tactics and team selection were concerned. Hodgson again opted to stick with the same line-up that started in the draw against Russia. In fairness the game produced a lukewarm first half short on quality, with both sides separated only by Gareth Bale’s trademark free-kick.
It’s the first time England came from behind to win a game at a major tournament since beating Croatia 4-2 at UEFA EURO 2004. ( Picture Courtesy -UEFA)
Then, perhaps out of necessity rather than choice Hodgson was forced into changes that eventually proved decisive. The half-time introductions of the forward pairing of Vardy and Daniel Sturridge not only provided England with the cutting edge they needed upfront but also enabled the likes of Dele Alli and others in midfield to be more influential. Vardy’s timely leveller just before the hour mark set the stage for the Liverpool striker’s late winner. Now, with four points from two games and a clash against Slovakia to come England look well placed to progress from Group B.
However, their first two matches have thrown up a familiar pattern from which lessons must be learned if they are to make a genuine impression at the tournament. Hodgson must continue to trust in the attacking qualities within his team and resist the temptation to fall into the trap of conservatism that has cost him before. The England chief must make effective use of key attributes like creativity ad pace that are abundant in his squad. The Three Lions do not possess either the experience or the knowhow to sit on narrow leads. So, for them attack is the best form of defence
England are by no means among the best teams in France. But, there is a fearlessness that underpins this side and given the liberty to express themselves, it is not beyond them to cause a surprise or two in the knockout rounds.
Comment by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.