by Liam McConville
As England head home following another heart-breaking penalty defeat, the analysis and post-mortem will begin as the country tries to recover from this latest setback. After one hundred and twenty minutes of soaking up pressure, penalties were yet again a step too far for this England side. Let’s face it England didn’t deserve to beat Italy, Hodgson’s side created few chances and throughout extra time, England seemed barely able to string two passes together. The Italians were worthy winners on the night as despite renewed optimism England were left with the same old story, another tournament, another spot-kick defeat.
This should be seen as a par tournament for England, a good starting block for new manager Roy Hodgson to build from. We qualified as group winners from a tough looking group; pride was also restored following the shambles of South Africa. Overall as much as it hurts to lose like this again, there is plenty to be optimistic about. This was a first international tournament for many of the players; the experience gained will prove valuable as the nation looks ahead to Brazil in 2014 (providing we qualify).
Hodgson is a vastly experienced and highly regarded coach but he too must look to adapt from this tournament. He has instilled new discipline to the side whilst seemingly keeping a happy camp along the way. However his rigid tactics and defensive drilling could only carry England so far. This pragmatism nearly saw England through to only their fourth semi-final at a major tournament ever (by contrast Germany have reached at least the semi-final stage in twenty major tournaments) but Hodgson must adapt for England to reach the last four once more.
Wayne Rooney’s lack of match fitness really showed towards the end as England’s forwards toiled in the Ukrainian heat. Andy Carroll failed to make an impact from the bench and the wingers were fairly ineffectual. England didn’t see enough of the ball, on the rare occasion that they did, they were rushed and were unable to create quality chances. England need to really work on their attacking options as like tonight they simply cannot rely on a set-piece to bail them out all the time.
There is no reason for us to fear the Italians, they’re a strong side but not the force they have been in the past. They have been indifferent in this tournament only drawing against Croatia before brushing aside the Republic of Ireland to narrowly qualify for the knock-out stages. England defended deep and allowed Italy to dominate the play, midfield magician Andrea Pirlo was in complete control for most of the evening.
There will no doubt be a call for the introduction of a winter break again in English football to help the national side compete after a tiresome season. However for England to be a major force again on the international stage there has to be sweeping stages across all levels of the game. The new national football centre in Burton is a big positive step. The FA has finally recognised the need for change at grassroots level. The country is crying out for new ideas and new coaches, it’s good to see that former players are being recruited to help bridge the gap to the likes of Spain and Germany.
Gareth Southgate is expected to be announced as the FA’s new technical director soon and Owen Hargreaves has been rumoured to be the next to be fast-tracked into a senior position. There is a need to tweak with the current system not rip it up and start again as some may suggest. One question that needs to be asked is why don’t we produce as many technically gifted players such as Joe Cole? Furthermore why is it that the rare flair players that make it as professionals are seen as luxury players? Southgate and the men in charge of producing the future stars must seek a change of philosophy to help bring through exciting players who can unlock a stubborn defence.
Sure it may take a generation to come to fruition but it is reassuring that the FA have a long-term plan to create a structure that will help the national side compete beyond the quarter final stage of a tournament. Hodgson is the right man to lead the national team through what may well be a transitional stage and the former Inter Milan coach will hopefully have a big input on Burton. He may not please everyone but quite frankly he’s the best coach we’ve got and deserves this opportunity.
The Euros have been a good tournament for England as long as they can build from here and look to the future. There is finally a plan both for the short and long term which is a relief for us all. Now England fans can look forward to a similar rollercoaster ride in Brazil in two years’ time, I for one can’t wait!