Tuesday, 19 June 2012

England: like a box of chocolates

You never know what you're gonna get

Off-field dispute, injury and unwillingness to be a standby gave Hodgson a rather large headache to select an appropriate back five for Euro 2012. But whilst missing Ferdinand, Cahill and Richards, England's defence comprising two players from Chelsea and two from Man City looked on paper one of the strongest of all nations, and would have been expected by many fans to be the one point they could rely on for consistency. In reality, the ability of Liverpool's Glen Johnson to rapidly recover position was needed on three occasions against Sweden.

The defence gave a stubborn performance in our opening fixture against France, establishing a forcefield around our box and restricting les Bleus to shooting from range. Because of the strength at the back, there was no legitimate claim that 1-1 was an unfair result despite France's domination in other areas. But for 15 minutes of madness at the start of the second half of the second game, England conceded twice to the aerial threat of Olof Mellberg. Their Euro aspirations looked in tatters, and it took a true super-sub performance from Theo Walcott to get England back on track.

Despite boasting a well-rounded set of skills - work-rate, stamina, strength, positioning, crossing - James Milner has disappointed. Extremely un-eye-catching against France, once he picked up a yellow against Sweden his worth as defensive cover on the right flank was severely devalued. Milner was quickly substituted for Walcott to make his first appearance at the tournament, and score a goal from the trequartista position that no one had seen him do before!

Hodgson was credited for the switch as a 'genius tactical move', but even the manager would not have forseen Walcott's impact to be that equalising goal. The Arsenal forward went on to excel himself and ensure the rescue mission that he started was completed. Minutes later, Walcott darted between Sweden's crowded defence and teed up Welbeck to apply a stunning winner. 

Most prominent bearer of the unpredictability factor is the returning Wayne Rooney. It has almost been a case of one step forward and two steps back ever since his introduction to the international scene in 2003. As a teenager Rooney made his mark on major tournament football the following year with two group stage goals against Switzerland. At the following World Cup, however, he was red carded for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in the crunch, grudge quarter-final affair with Portugal.

Fast forward six years to the present day, and at 26 Rooney is no longer one of the young guns; he is England's talisman up top. Today is the day of redemption for Rooney, England's caged lion is ready to be unleashed on the tournament having waited out a reduced two game ban received at the end of qualification.

After taking four points from two tricky opening fixtures, with experimential lineups, England can really kick on with the team Hodgson envisaged when he took up the reigns. That team will feature Rooney at the heart of all attacks, whether starting a move from dropping deep into midfield or meeting a cross with a precision header. When they take to the field to face Ukraine, England will hope Rooney can be their leader by example, achieving the untarnished progress his country has been waiting for.

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