Coach Roy Hodgson
One to Watch Andy Carroll
In the next of my Euro 2012 team profiles, England come under the spotlight. England have the joint oldest national football team, having been formed in 1870. They have a proud footballing history and see themselves as inventors of the game which has become their national sport. Needless to say, England have been a regular feature at major international tournaments, appearing at the World Cup Finals on thirteen occasions since 1950 and participating in the European Championships eight times, the first being in 1968.
Success however, has been harder to come by in the competitions themselves. The English have only ever won the World Cup once, on home ground in 1966, defeating West Germany 4-2 at Wembley in the final, after a famous hat-trick from Geoff Hurst. The closest that the English have come since then, was an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by West Germany in the semi-final at Italia 90.
The European Championships, formerly the European Nations Cup, has proven an even more difficult nut to crack. England’s best achievements in that tournament so far have been a third place finish in 1968 and, another penalty shoot-out defeat by the Germans, this time in the semi-final of Euro 96, in front of their home fans.
Since then successive England managers, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson have fared no better, all successfully negotiating tournament qualification groups and then failing to deliver, from the tournament phase, anything more than quarter final elimination at best.
Following Eriksson’s unsuccessful 2006 World Cup campaign he was replaced as head coach by Steve McClaren. Under McClaren’s direction the England team slumped to a new low in modern times. Failing to qualify for Euro 2008 was the first time that England hadn’t reached a major international competition since their failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. McClaren was duly sacked and became the shortest serving England manager ever, he was replaced by Fabio Capello.
Capello arrived with an “Iron Man” reputation, he would instil the discipline required to turn England’s ageing, so called “Golden Generation” into “lean mean winning machines” and, for a while, it looked like he had. England qualified for South Africa 2010 in impressive style, with a game to spare, sealing their place with a 5-1 home win over Croatia.
Things were looking rosy. However, once again at the tournament itself, England started off in shaky fashion, only just scraping through the group stage. It was clear from the very start that the problems of old hadn’t been fixed. Capello was unsure who his goalkeeper should be, Gerrard and Lampard were still being used together despite their obvious deficiency as a partnership, and the 4-4-2 system employed by Capello looked totally out of date.
By the time England faced Germany in the second round, the team were at sixes and sevens, bereft of drive or confidence in themselves or each other and pretty quickly were being put to the sword by a dynamic, exciting, young German side who knew how to play together. England went home.
After that, Capello was forced to ring the changes and changed things around a bit, bringing in some younger, fresher talent. It seemed to do the trick, with the England side qualifying unbeaten for the Euros in Poland and Ukraine and recording an impressive victory over World and European Champions Spain in a friendly.
However, the F.A.s decision to unilaterally strip John Terry of the England captaincy, because of the criminal racism charge which is hanging over his head, without mentioning it to Capello, resulted in a public disagreement and Capello’s eventual resignation just a couple of months before Euro 2012 was due to begin.
The F.A. took their time over replacing him. After placing under-21 boss Stuart Pearce in temporary charge, the top brass took months to name their successor allowing the rumour mill to flourish and the fans and media to select their favourite. Their favourite was Harry Redknapp who was, needless to say, snubbed by the powers that be, as Roy Hodgson got the vote.
Hodgson is a journeyman manager with plenty of experience in various countries, including at international level with Switzerland. He is an old-fashioned type of manager who believes in strict defensive discipline, two banks of four working hard without the ball. Hodgson is not a man who has time for the finer arts of possessional football, he is happier to contain the opposition and soak up the pressure whilst trying to nick a goal on the counter-attack. A great organiser, his success level improving small clubs and pushing them up the table is without question, however, he famously came unstuck at Liverpool attempting to play this way and question marks must be raised over his tactics and adaptability to change at the highest level.
The new manager’s final squad raised some eyebrows, the omission of Micah Richards and Rio Ferdinand for example, along with the inclusion of John Terry have been major talking points. Frank Lampard’s thigh injury means that he will now miss out, with Jordan Henderson being called in to replace him in the squad. Lampard’s misfortune, although a big loss, may work in England’s favour as Hodgson can now not be tempted back into re-forming that fatally flawed partnership in the centre of midfield.
Gerrard has been handed the captaincy, something which he has desired for years, and we can expect to see him play a major part in the Championships from his preferred central midfield position. With Gareth Barry also ruled out through injury, Scott Parker will likely partner Gerrard. His tough tackling and positional discipline should allow the Liverpool captain to join up from midfield and get forward where he can be most effective.
Whether England play 4-4-1-1 or, as is Hodgson’s default formation, 4-4-2, a player to keep your eye out for is Andy Carroll. At 6ft 4″ it’s impossible to miss the big striker and, having had a tough start to his life as England’s most expensive player, the Liverpool front-man arrives at the tournament in great form. Rooneys suspension, coupled with Carroll’s improvement in recent times, has earned the Geordie the coveted no.9 shirt and he intends to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
At his best Carroll is a nightmare for defenders; fantastic in the air, with great strength and good link-up play, he packs a thunderous left-foot and, when he’s fully fit-as he is now- he has a quick turn of foot. If England can play to his strengths and get players like Ashley Young , Danny Welbeck and Steven Gerrard around him, the big man could be a revelation.
It is almost impossible to predict England’s chances of success in Poland and Ukraine, they have only had about a fortnight to work with Roy Hodgson and his rigid methods/philosophy can take time for players to adapt to. There are a couple of wildcards in the squad, such as Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain, Arsenal’s direct and quick attacking midfielder, and Danny Welbeck of Manchester United, but on the whole I wouldn’t anticipate England to play an expansive, attractive game under Hodgson.
Expect England to be well-organised and difficult to break down, they won’t score many but they won’t concede too many either. The form of goalkeeper Joe Hart will be crucial. Fresh from winning the Premier League title with Manchester City, he has shown himself to be one of the best young goalkeepers in Europe. A continuation of that kind of form is imperative.
The level of expectation in England going into Euro 2012, as has been widely reported, is lower than it has been in a long time going into a tournament, partly to do with the situation and partly do with the squad selected. This could work in England’s favour as often in the past English teams have cracked under the weight of the nation’s hopes. However, drawn in group d, they face no “easy” matches. England will play France first, followed by Sweden and, host nation, Ukraine.
France are coming to Poland and Ukraine on the back of a twenty match unbeaten run, Ribery is on fire and they have quality throughout the team. I expect France to dominate possession against England and therfore, with the players they have, win the match. As I don’t envisage England scoring too many, they will need to be at their best defensively to shut-out a free-scoring Sweden in their second game.With Rooney back available for the third game, I can see England having enough to beat Ukraine but again, it will be hard-fought game against one of the hosts who will be keen to progress in front of their home fans.
Whilst I think England will have just about enough to get through the group, it will be touch and go and they could be edged out by either of the other teams (assuming France win the group). That’s what is so great about the European Championships, especially this time around, the groups are just too difficult to call with any level of certainty.
Hodgson image by ajlisss aka Alexandra Savicheva. Fans image by fsf.images.