This could be the tournament that changes the fabric of the English national team.
With nothing expected from the Three Lions prior to EURO 2012, it was almost a no lose situation for Roy Hodgson, and he certainly came out on top after four spirited displays.
Though spirited, the displays acted mostly to magnify major weaknesses England suffer from. Ball possession, ageing stars, lack of attacking creativity…and oh yeah the inability to win a penalty shootout. You have to be cruel to be kind.
Yet solace can come from youngsters such as Danny Wellbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all getting their first taste of tournament football and flourishing. Wellbeck was particular impressive, as was fellow forward Andy Carroll, both contributing massively with goals and guile in the 3-2 win over Sweden.
Wayne Rooney delivered what he is supposed to do, goals, well one goal at least. Other than that, the games he saw action in — after his suspension forced him to sit out the first two group games — didn’t go well for the man who has the weight of a nation on his broad shoulders. He looked lethargic, wasteful in possession and at times disinterested. I’m not saying Rooney should be dropped, but certainly Hodgson needs to reinvigorate his star mans hunger in an England shirt.
The overriding feeling form the tournament will be hope. Hope that Hodgson is the right man (which he proved with several shrewd tactical switches during the tournament), hope that England’s youngsters can gain a wealth of experience from appearing at a major finals tournament, hope that one day England will actually win a penalty shootout.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Hodgson had three weeks to build his team and mold them into a side which could get results. They did just that, winning two and drawing two of their four games. Respectable. Yes, England must control possession more and dictate the play better. But when have England ever been good and doing that? Certainly not since I was born in 88’. Some may argue for spells under Terry Venables in 1996 but for the most part the English national side have papered over the cracks, qualified regularly for major tournaments and then forgotten all the lessons they’d learned from past failures when they arrive at the big occasions. That has to change.
Roy Hodgson is an intelligent man and football manager. He will already be switching his attention towards qualification for the World Cup in 2014 and learning from Ukraine and Poland. He is eager to give younger players the chance to shine. He should do just that and maybe get them to practice penalties after every training session, if they aren’t anyway. England huffed and puffed their way around stadiums in Kiev and Donetsk this June without ever really looking like world beaters. But the fact of the matter is, they came just a crossbar’s width and Gianluigi Buffon’s intuition away from getting a shot at making the final of the European championships. Something they’ve only ever done twice in the nations proud football history. The only time they’ve made the semis in the modern format was at EURO 1996 and they blew it, to Germany, on penalties. Come on, you know the script by now. In Roy we trust, given time I fully expect him to alter that script by succeeding where his predecessors failed. Next stop, Brazil.