Today is a potentially huge day in the history of English football. The national team is looking to get past the quarter final stage of a major tournament for the first time in 16 years, 20 years if you take into account tournaments on foreign soil. Everyone is asking can they win? Will they win?
Semantics aside the answer is yes. As long as you are in it when the shouting starts then anything can happen.
The problem is how do Roy Hodgson and his unlikely lads go about beating Italy then Germany then Spain or Portugal. Three quarter finals so far have shown three teams so terrified of losing they didn’t even bother trying to win. They set out to play what has now been coined “the England way” which was formerly known as “the Chelsea way” which many moons ago was mocked by Jose Mourinho when he was in charge at Chelsea as “parking the bus”.
The Czech Republic and Greece may have done it out of sheer necessity. Technically they had no answer for their superior opponents so they set out to play for penalties. As a viewer it’s not exciting stuff but as a competitor when you are over matched it is all to easy find yourself manning the defence and hoping for the best.
France were a different kind of disappointment altogether. Playing the World and European champions may be a daunting situation but there was no excuse for their negative tactics. Playing one right back in front of another is something usually reserved for Cristiano Ronaldo not the opposing teams left back. Having your defence sitting on their on 18 yard box is something you expect to see against an attacker with searing pace but Arsenal fans will tell you that Cesc Fabregas was hiding when God was handing out speed. Laurent Blanc said before the tournament that he wanted France to play like Barcelona the only problem is he didn’t tell everyone he meant Barcelona of Ecuador and not the Catalan giants.
It’s not the same for England though. Playing better teams isn’t going to affect Hodgson’s tactics because this is exactly how he wants his team to play. A flat back four playing deep enough so that all the build up play happens in front of them but not deep enough that they are standing on Joe Hart’s toes. Two holding midfielder’s in Gerrard and Parker sitting just in front closing any gaps that opposing strikers might try to exploit. Two wide men that act as auxiliary full backs leaving just Rooney and Welbeck up front but if intense pressure is building they can move Rooney into midfield to make it a 5 and completely bottle up the middle of the pitch.
Roy has been around the game a long time and has picked up tactical subtleties from all over Europe. He knows that if your team is organised, hard working and mentally strong then you stand a chance when coming up against stronger teams with superior players. This is probably the reason that the FA hired him when the whole country was clamouring for Harry Redknapp. He arrived and immediately imprinted his philosophy that worked so well for him at Fulham and West Brom.
Defend first and attack second is the mantra of the moment. Goals may come but they will come on the back of a solid defensive mentality. 1-0 is the desired scoreline (a scoreline that has been enough for that last two Euro finals) but to win a match by the slimmest margin every football fan will tell you that you need luck. Maybe you can do without it in the odd match but to win a knock out competition it helps if it’s “written in the stars” as Gary Neville would say.
After Chelsea’s exploits in Europe does English football have any luck left or was that just a prelude to a summer of magic. I’ll tell you what though I’ll start believing if in the semi John Terry gets ridiculously sent off for kneeing Thomas Mueller in the back, England take it to penalties and Andy Carroll slots home the winner.
Like every other Scotsman, as soon as the ball hits the net I will be looking for the nearest cave to take a long, long, long football hibernation.
Live Tonight: As if I need to remind anyone England vs Italy is tonight at 7:45 and as always check around What Culture for news and reports.