In the final days before Euro 2012 kicks off, questions abound over how far England can realistically go this summer. As the injuries continue to mount, optimism steadily decreases over England’s chances.
Yet, could lowered expectations work in England’s favor?
In past Euro and World Cup tournaments, the amount of buzz surrounding England has always been incredibly high with media sensationalism. Yet, with all the hype of golden era of the 2000s, it’s fair to say that while the English were filled with superstar talent and promise, they just weren’t good enough to win.
As England approaches Euro 2012, expectations just aren’t as high under Roy Hodgson. Most fans would scoff at the notion of England actually really having any chance of winning Euro 2012 due to lowered enthusiasm from past failures.
However, after years of experience on both the domestic and international, Hodgson has a plan that has found him success before. Instead of playing attractive, possession-oriented football, Hodgson has signaled change with conservative tactics that call for rigidity over style.
Rather than playing creative, free-flowing football that Spain and the Netherlands thrive on, England has no choice but to defend and play for the counter. It won’t be easy, but perhaps this strategy will play to the strength of the Three Lions.
The decision to play unattractive, boring football will not be met favorably by many in England. The press will lambast it and argue that Hodgson’s oversimplified tactics will set the team backwards. The quality of the football played by England would be low enough for critics and disgruntled supporters to complain that Hodgson and the Football Association are just playing it too safe.
Yet, despite the complaints, England won’t simply care as long as they get positive results like they did against Belgium and Norway. Even though they were out-played in midfield by inferior teams who created for more chances than they did, Hodgson will be cautiously optimistic that his strategy can work.
There are reasons why England should continue to play as ugly as they did in their friendly matches. First off, this strategy defines who Hodgson is. While it isn’t the most pleasing to look at, Hodgson’s tactics are easy enough to learn for players who have only been under him for mere weeks. Time is a luxury England doesn’t have so easy-to-learn conservative tactics is quick enough for the players to adapt too and develop a rapport with each other.
Secondly, while many would dream of England winning tournaments in style, the skill of the players selected dictates the defensive tactics Hodgson would want to use. Rather than having midfielders like Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley or the injured Jack Wilshere who keep possession of the ball and can build chances from clinical passing, Hodgson has elected to go with those who fit his style. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will work well in England’s system in terms of making strong tackles and linking up with speedsters ahead.
England also have wingers and strikers who can thrive off the counter when moving forward. Players like Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all possess blistering pace when driving forward with the ball. In England’s victories over Belgium and Norway, both goals scored came from Young who really is benefiting in his role behind the striker.
England need to have the tempo to use through passes to unlock defenses and then must rely on their forwards being clinical when finishing the few scoring chances they’ll receive. Danny Welbeck’s goal against Belgium typified the sort of class England’s strikers need to have up front.
Whether England really has any chance this summer depends on the will and belief in this squad. While injuries and snubs have made this roster far weaker than it could have been, this team may be able to go far under reliable tactics that have worked before on the big stage. For inspiration, England can look back recently to Chelsea’s run which showed that strict tactical displays can lead to success over opponents with more talented rosters.
In the end, if England falls while playing unglamorously, it doesn’t really matter. Losing is still losing.
Therefore, as the Euro draws near, England should be prepared to play as conventional as possible. With all the injuries that has plagued his roster, Hodgson can only hope that his side can go far despite how depleted they are.
It’s a big “if”, but if England is going to win the Euro, it certainly won’t be pretty to watch.
Yet, if it gets the job done, that’s all that really matters.