Jun 18, 2012

Why England Will Still Not Advance Past the Quarterfinal

England's win over Sweden was fantastic. No question about it. After arguably their best half of football in a decade (going back to the victory over Argentina in the 2002 World Cup), Roy Hodgson's men showed tremendous resilience in coming back to defeat Sweden and leave Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his mates with nothing to play for on the final match day.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. Well, part of it. With the Swedes' bags packed and their tee times booked, the Scandinavian side cannot realistically be expected to offer much resistance against France in their final match. France, equal on points with England, already have the better goal difference. So to win the group, England will likely need to defeat the Ukraine by at least a couple of goals.

We'll discuss the challenge of doing that against the host team in a bit. For now let's just point out that if England finish second, they face defending world and European champions Spain in the quarterfinals. Sorry, but under no realistic expectation can the three lions be expected to win that. England may have looked good against Sweden, but they didn't look that good. Not with the way they defended on the two goals, for example. If they pull that stuff against Spain it is going to be a very long day indeed.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves because a place in the quarterfinals is by no means assured. To finish second, England need at least a point from the encounter in Donetsk. No easy task considering the Ukraine will be playing for God and country on their home turf. Think the Ukrainians will be fired up for that one? Think there's any chance Andriy Shevchenko sits it out? Yes. And no. Sheva is 35. This is his last chance to represent his country (or indeed anybody) at this stage of a major tournament. Shevchenko will not only play, but play hard. Anybody expecting any different is probably also expecting the refereeing to be perfectly just. UEFA is not anywhere near as corrupt as FIFA (then again, neither is Afghanistan) but there is a vested interest in not seeing both cohosts exit the European championships for the second time in a row. Plus, rabid home crowds just have a way of influencing officials. So England will have their work cut out for them.

Still, let's say Roy Hodgson's side pulls it out. After all, Wayne Rooney will be back and that will supply a big boost. Surely, a draw can be achieved. And with it a spot in the quarterfinals, in all likelihood against Italy.

While an easier opponent than Spain, the azzurri are nevertheless likely to be the best team England have faced in the tournament so far. France were just getting their sea legs in game 1 and Sweden are really pretty weak in the whole scheme of things. Italy are organized and will not leave the Danny and Wayne show much breathing space. That means it will come down to England's midfield to create chances. This part of England's game has actually been impressive so far. Which means it can't remain so much longer. I mean come on, Steven Gerrard? Sorry, but at this stage of his career, he really shouldn't put much of a scare in the Italian defense.

At best, we see England holding on for a draw and maybe taking the game to penalties, where things will meet their inevitable end. Yes, Chelsea (an English team) defeated Bayern Munich (a German team) on penalties in the Champions League final, but how many actual Englishmen took spot kicks for the Blues? Two did, and they both converted, but can you really see five English players doing it? Well, maybe. But probably not. We may be reverse-jinxing England the way we did poor Poland and Barcelona (as well as a few others we don't need to bring up at this point) but betting against England at a major soccer tournament has got to still be a safe thing, right? Right? We'll just have to wait and see.

1 comment:

  1. The fact is England are Shit...Who cares about them. Go Man Utd