by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

England: Hodgson’s Plan B

The criticism coming from many pundits after England’s 1-1 draw with France was the negativity of the performance, with many asking if England had a Plan B if they did not score first.  Hodgson, however, in the next game has shown that’s he is no one-trick pony when it comes to tactics.  Sweden had conceded five headed goals in their last three games and, being aware of Sweden’s weakness in the air, he bought Carroll into the team.  At first it worked and England would have been satisfied going into the half-time break one goal in front with Carroll having justified his selection with a powerful headed goal.

When the second half saw Sweden tearing England apart and storming into a 2-1 lead after 15 minutes, Hodgson, again showed he can switch tactics and managed to restore the initiative to England with his substitution of Walcott for the labouring Milner.  Walcott promptly scored equaliser and crossed for Welbeck’s sublime finish after some nice play.

A quick scout around the internet seems to suggest that Roy Hodgson is winning over his critics, some of whom seem ready to begrudgingly admit that perhaps Hodgson does know what he’s doing.  England have shown that they can score and defend, now all they need to do is put the two together and who knows where the team, with the addition of a raring to go Rooney, can go.

Sweden’s Sense of Humour

My view of the Swedes having no sense of humour has changed after this tournament.  First up was their leaked pictures from their training ground where, after playing a game called ‘the pig’, the hapless reserve keeper got his reward for losing the game, and was filmed on all fours with his shorts round his ankles while his team mates lined up to take shots at his bare backside, much to the annoyance of the Swedish prime minister who was reportedly furious.

Next up was the tabloid war where the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet realistically mocked up various English tabloids reporting a 5-0 win to Sweden, under the headline “Dear England, we give you tomorrow’s newspapers today. Enjoy!”  Among the mock-ups were the front page of The Sun reading “”Smorgas-bored to death!”; the Daily Mail headline ran “”L0-5ers!”; and the spoof Daily Mirror showed a picture of John hart with his hands on his head with the headline “Broken Hart”: “Black Friday as Sweden destroys us”.

Ronaldo, The Second Best Player in the World

Is the second best player in the world showing signs of cracking under the pressure of only being second best?  In response to taunts of “Messi, Messi, Messi” from the Danish fans in the press conference after the game he stated “Do you know where Messi was this time last year? He was being knocked out of the Copa America on home soil with Argentina. I think that’s worse.”

However, while Messi was getting the plaudits for a hat trick against Brazil, Ronaldo was missing easy chances against Germany in Euro 2012.  This tournament was Ronaldo’s chance to stamp his mark on the world in a high profile international tournament, something he has failed to do so far.  Ronaldo is playing at his fifth major international tournament and has netted only five goals in 21 appearances.  His best effort was at Euro 2004 where, still only 19, he scored twice to help Portugal reach the final. He then managed one goal at each of the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008 and the last World Cup in South Africa.  In this tournament he has been disappointing and looking increasingly frustrated.  Seemingly the burden of the expectations of the Portuguese fans weighs heavily on his shoulders.  He has had a sometimes tense relationship with them, and he desperately wants to be revered like Eusebio and Figo were before him and one suspects this pressure is causing him to miss the chances he would put away easily in a Real Madrid shirt.

Ireland, the worst team ever?

Ireland entered Euro 2012 full of hope, not that they would win it, although some were mentioning them as potential dark horses, but that they would at least make a good showing, and perhaps pull off a surprise or two, and why not? They were placed 18 in the FIFA rankings, above Czech Republic (27), Ukraine (52) and Poland (62), and were on an unbeaten run of 14 games coming in to the tournament, 11 of which had seen no goals conceded.  However, after just two games they have showed that hard work and passion are no replacement for skill at this level and have earned themselves the tag of the worst team in the tournament, with some asking if they are the worst team ever to appear in a European Championship.  Its not hard to disagree with Roy Keane’s post-match comments when he questioned the Irish commitment to success, and, with all the focus on the fan’s, admittedly wonderful, support it does seem that they are content to lose the game but win the party.

Italy and the fear of a 2-2 draw

One of the competitions pre-tournament favourites, Italy find themselves in danger of facing an early exit from Euro 2012.  The draws against Spain and Croatia have left them needing a win against Ireland to qualify, and then a draw of at least two goals each between Spain and Croatia, in the group’s other final game, could see them still eliminated.

There is talk of a conspiracy between Spain and Croatia to ensure this result and eliminate a footballing giant from the competition.  Remarkably this was exactly what happened to the Italian side in Euro 2004, when a 2-2 draw, thanks to a very late equaliser, between Denmark and Sweden left Italy, then managed by now Ireland coach Trapattoni, catching an early plane home, and crying foul.  After that occasion, Italian keeper Buffon stated that, “Someone should be ashamed – and it’s not us. I didn’t believe that this could happen.” While Franco Carraro, the president of the Italian Football Federation, was driven to add: “There is no doubt that the way the Denmark versus Sweden game developed shows that the two teams were aiming for a draw.”

Although everyone concerned has dismissed the possibility of an agreement between Croatia and Spain, the Italia media haven’t let the subject lie, a poll in the Corriere dello Sport saw over half of Italian supporters thinking that Spain and Croatia will finish 2-2, and the Corriere della Sera warned “We no longer have our destiny in our own hands and must depend on the correctness of others. Having been burned once before, we are entitled to be fearful”.  Imagine the fuss if the result was a genuine 2-2 draw with a last minute equaliser.