Misfiring England leave Hodgson exposed at Euro 2016

Saint-Étienne (France) (AFP) – England’s frustrating 0-0 draw with Slovakia at Euro 2016 has left manager Roy Hodgson facing a wave of criticism over his inability to make his talent-packed squad click.

Despite 29 attempts at goal, England had to settle for a draw in Saint-Etienne on Monday, consigning them to second place behind Wales in Group B and setting them on a quarter-final collision course with hosts France.

Having made six changes to his starting XI, Hodgson came in for strong criticism in the British media on Tuesday, accused of taking a “gamble” that had failed to pay off.

The Times, The Sun and The Daily Mirror all branded England “second rate”, while The Daily Express dubbed Hodgson’s men “Toothless Lions”.

The BBC said Hodgson’s decision to disassemble the team that had edged Wales 2-1 in Lens last week was “astonishing” and “almost smacked of arrogance”.

The stalemate at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard came just two days after outgoing Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said Hodgson would only be offered a contract extension if England “do well” in France.

The 68-year-old had actually aligned himself with popular opinion by fielding Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, after they came off the bench to score the goals that sank Wales last Thursday.

But they proved no more effective than Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, whose places they took.

Hodgson also rested his full-backs, Danny Rose and the in-form Kyle Walker, with Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne stepping in.

But it was the decision to bench skipper Wayne Rooney, who has been revitalised in a midfield role, that was to prove the most contentious.

Jack Wilshere, Rooney’s replacement, continues to look off the pace after playing just three times for Arsenal last season due to injury and he lasted only 56 minutes before the captain was summoned from the bench.

“I would have started Wayne Rooney,” former England winger Chris Waddle told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Unfortunately for Jack Wilshere, he was off the pace and couldn’t get his passing going. He lost the ball cheaply.”

– ‘Heroic defending’ –

Kane and Dele Alli also entered the fray in the second half, but despite frantic scenes in and around the Slovakian penalty area in the closing stages, England struggled to carve out clear chances.

“Do England have a system at the moment? Or is everyone trying to score as an individual?” asked former England right-back Danny Mills. “There is no pattern of play.”

The consolation for Hodgson, aside from the fact of England’s qualification, was that beginning with the 1-1 draw against Russia in Marseille, his side dominated all three of their group games.

“Soon we will make someone pay,” he said, before adding, a little forlornly: “We will score goals one day.”

Former England striker Gary Lineker voiced optimism that Hodgson’s men could benefit from playing stronger opposition in the knockout phase, tweeting that it is “sometimes easier against sides who have a go”.

There are no guarantees that England will face an attacking team in the last 16, however, with either Hungary, Iceland, Portugal and Austria their potential opponents in Nice next Monday.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart, at least, is confident that England’s group-phase displays will make them a feared prospect for rival teams.

“We are into the next round and nobody will want to play us,” said the Manchester City man.

“I haven’t had anything to do in the whole tournament, to be honest. We have been playing very well as a team.

“There are good chances being made. I couldn’t criticise anyone. There’s been some heroic defending against us. It is frustrating, but we are through.”

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