Euro 2016 blog 3 – Miserable England dumped out of Euro 2016

It was one of those nights that had an air of inevitability about it.

England, faced with a 1-0 goal lead against supposedly inferior Icelandic opposition, conceded two quick goals, each as woeful as the other, and then proceeded to lumber to defeat.

This was Hollywood lumbering. The supposed megastars of the English game. Players currently commanding multi-million pound wages were lumbering around the field like brain-dead zombies in pursuit of an impossible equaliser.

For the magnificent Iceland, it was their easiest game of the tournament so far. Having taken the lead they could afford to play to their strengths – defend in numbers and then break on the counter-attack.

The tactics worked perfectly because England failed to prepare for them.

Iceland had utilised the booming long throws of Cardiff City midfielder Aron Gunnarsson throughout the whole tournament, but England were hopelessly inept in conceding the equaliser.

It was no surprise to see Kari Arnason’s flicked header from the edge of the area land in Ragnar Sigurdsson’s path. The Iceland centre-back, who had a towering game, lashed home the volley in a sea of space to cancel out Wayne Rooney’s fourth-minute penalty.

What followed was equally predictable.

Putting together one of the moves of the match, Iceland swept upfield with ease, shifting the ball to target man Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, whose shot squirmed underneath Joe Hart’s pitiful dive.

Hart’s second grave error of the tournament – and second when diving low to his left – cast England into the land of the living dead.

Suddenly, players who had had magnificent seasons in the Premier League caved under the pressure.

The tension was palpable even before the match began. Joe Hart in particularly was too tense – nervous, even – shaking his head as if to rid himself of the strain.

As Ian Wright remarked after the match, England “were petrified.”

Wayne Rooney was dreadful. Gary Cahill was worse. Harry Kane was shocking. Manager Roy Hodgson resigned after the match.

Kane’s presence over free-kicks and corners was torturous. It was as if he tried to copy Gareth Bale, scored a worldy in training and was suddenly England’s best free-kick taker. He failed horribly.

His demise to the land of the dead, where his touch against Iceland was heavier than that of a zombie, was the scariest to watch.

Free-kick after free-kick. Shot after shot. Each clubbed wildly shy of the target with increasing desperation.

It was a disease that spread through the England side as the game wore on. To a man, their first touch was awful, with players letting the ball roll under their foot and technique malfunctioning.

There was no pressing of the opposition, no desire and no quality.

Too many times England were hesitant going forward. There was a suffocating tendency to pass the ball sideways. There was barely any creativity and only lethargic movement off the ball.

Substitute Marcus Rashford was the brightest spark, at least showing a willingness and ability to beat defenders and inject some life into a motionless attack.

Take nothing away from Iceland though. It is insignificant that they have a population of just over 300,000. What mattered was their commitment to the cause, their execution of a gameplan and tactics, plus their desire to put their bodies on the line.

Their fans were astounding. The cavernous ‘Viking chant’ even intimidated those watching on television. They supported their team in unison with passion, deafening noise and zero violence. They were a lesson to the footballing world.

On the pitch, the players followed suit.

Ragnar Sigurdsson delivered a man-of-the-match display in defence. Birkir Bjarnason menaced England on the counter and Ari Skulason completely shut down the pace of Kyle Walker.

Their display fully merited the win and a quarter-final match against hosts France, and who would bet against them defeating another under-fire team?

But for England this was a truly horrific match.

They haven’t learned from previous mistakes and have a nightmare record in knockout football.

They are paralysed by fear when the going gets tough, crippled by pressure and expectation.

Their gruesome fate was inevitable as soon as the 18th minute. They were dead and buried. The referee should have blown for full-time there and then – a kind of footballing euthanasia.

But unusually for these zombies they will get another chance in the land of the living. They will be praised again and all will be well…until the next major tournament comes along.

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Euro 2016: Can France win at home again?

 

It’s been 18 years since France last hosted a major tournament and expectation levels will be just as high this time round.

In 1998, France stuffed a dismal Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup final and they enter Euro 2016 not only as hosts but as favourites too.

Most bookmakers have them priced at 3/1 about the win, with Germany (9/2), Spain (5/1) and England (9/1) as alternatives.

The French certainly have a heap of pressure on them – not least because they lack a star striker after Karim Benzema’s suspension from the national team.

Olivier Giroud is the obvious candidate to fill the void left by Benzema, with the Arsenal striker’s goalscoring record of 17 in 49 games bettering Benzema’s 27 in 81 in percentage terms.

Giroud still has his critics and although he lacks star quality he is often underestimated in terms of pure goalscoring ability and will certainly score his fair share this summer.

Antoine Griezmann has also emerged as a world-class forward option for France and is capable of playing on either wing or in behind the striker where he has been so effective for Atletico Madrid.

But Les Bleus’ midfield really catches the eye.

Premier League duo N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet have each staked a claim for a starting place in the tournament opener against Romania on June 10, but France boss Didier Deschamps will most likely call upon stars Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to dominate the midfield battle.

However, the French defence looks a little suspect with five of the selected eight defenders over the age of 30 and with no stand-out leader amongst them.

The back-line also lacks pace with only Lucas Digne and Bacary Sagna quick enough to resist Europe’s slickest wingers.

Les Bleus will therefore count on captain Hugo Lloris to be in top form during the tournament after his excellent season with Premier League side Spurs.

Lloris has established himself as one of the most coveted goalkeepers in Europe and will be a formidable presence between the sticks as France look to emulate their success of 1984 in winning their home European Championships.

Standing in their way will be Germany, who look a good price to secure their second successive major tournament win off the back of their World Cup triumph in Brazil two years ago.

Given their wealth of creative options in midfield and up front, the Germans seem to have been underestimated and will feel aggrieved not to be seen as the favourites heading into the tournament.

Like the French, their main weakness lies in defence after a raft of retirements following the World Cup.

Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng will form a strong central defensive partnership but there is little to shout about in the full-back positions and it is in those areas where their opponents will hope to make inroads.

Spain have undoubtedly the strongest defence in the championship with a back line of Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Juanfran.

If coach Vicente del Bosque can withdraw his blind preference for goalkeeper Iker Casillas and choose David de Gea instead, Spain will have a monstrous back five.

The main problem for Spain is their lack of strikers.

Chelsea hitman Diego Costa has been unconvincing at international level and does not travel to France, leaving Spain’s main striking options as Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz and Pedro.

Much will hinge on the power of their midfield in the defence of their title, with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva all likely to start and the industry of Koke a helpful balance to an attack-minded engine room.

Then there is England, a definite outside shot but a team unlikely to make it past the semi-finals.

They have one of the youngest squads on show in France but their defence, like so many others, is a telling flaw and one which is likely to be exploited in ruthless fashion.

The promise of attacking trio Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli is something to savour for England boss Roy Hodgson but his main dilemma is accommodating captain Wayne Rooney in the same team.

The most sensible option is to play him in deep midfield and give him a controlling influence on the game, but Hodgson is still keen to play him in a number ten role which harms the effectiveness of Alli.

Still, this is England’s most exciting team for some time and they will be aiming to right the wrongs of the World Cup.

But, for the overall win it is hard to pick France in favour of Germany. The German midfield has an embarrassment of riches and despite their defensive frailties they will be devastating going forward – just too good for the competition.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089