For all the pundits’ chatter about the 2012 vintage Three Lions being The Worst England Team in Decades™, Roy Hodgson looks to have put together a well drilled, organised and decent team.
Hodgson needs to be commended for being brave enough to start the 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left. Commentators in certain circles have called the experiment a failure. That view ignores the fact France’s players – presumably unsure of what the tournament debutant was capable of – continually chopped the young winger down as soon as he touched the ball. The “experiment” could have proved to be far more successful with a referee more inclined to blow the whistle when Englishmen were clearly impeded.
On the right however, changes are needed. Any side that perseveres with James Milner as a starting option should not be taken seriously at international level. Milner is an able deputy, and a shoe-in for squad level, but his inclusion in the first 11 seems tame with Theo Walcott on the bench. Presumably, Hodgson saw playing the young, fast Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left as somewhat of a risk and didn’t want a similar young, fast winger in Walcott on the other side. But as many managers will attest, there is often a lot to be said for an “in for a penny in for a pound mentality” – if you are going to do something, best to avoid half-measures – and having such explosive pace on both wings would really have helped bridge the gap between the forwards and England’s central midfielders – who sat very deep for much of the match.
Things should settle down when Wayne Rooney returns to the team for the Ukraine game and Ashley Young resumes his role on the left allowing Hodgson to be riskier on the right. But with the final Rooney-less game being against England’s bogey team Sweden, Hodgson better hope that by then it’s not too late.
Management ups and downs
The English Media
For not ordaining the England team as nailed-on tournament winners at the first chance. The lack of over-expectation can only help England.
The official third best team in the tournament lost their opening game to plucky Denmark, undoubtedly the least favoured team in the group. Lose tonight against the much-fancied Germans and the Dutch could be on their way home. Has the Group of Death seen its first fatality?