If only there were a bit of positivity in the world eh?
England kicked off their Euro 2016 campaign on Saturday night against Russia, and by Sunday morning social media was filled with people questioning England’s abilities, saying that the coach doesn’t have a clue and that England will be going out at the group stage again. My opinion?
England looked like a team that knew exactly what they were doing – they were bright, enthusiastic and taking the game to the Russians from very early on – what the players lacked in years of experience they more than made up for in passion, which has been a trait sorely missing from the Three Lions for years now.
That passion looked to be infectious too, as some of the more experienced players like Wayne Rooney and James Milner looked every bit as up for the battle as their younger comrades. Mr Milner often does actually turn up in any case, though questions about Rooney’s commitment to the cause have surely been laid to rest.
Of course, there were arguments that Rooney did not warrant a place in the Euro 2016 squad in the first place, and generally I’d back those arguments up – but his late season performances, notably in the FA Cup Final, proved to the masses that he could still get the job done when the chips were down. That essentially made him a shoe-in in any case.
I would also say that if the opposition goalkeeper wasn’t named Akinfeev then England could easily have been 2 or 3 up by half time – the experienced custodian really kept his side in the game, and while it did look for literally 90% of the game as though it would be in vain on the night if it wasn’t for his determination to keep going, keep doing his job, then Russia would have fallen prey to the Lions much earlier on in the evening.
They kept plugging away, and got the goal right at the death. Akinfeev’s performance aside, the result did not reflect the way the game had gone – England should have had it all wrapped up but for some brilliance between the Russian sticks.
OK, people will say “performance doesn’t matter at the end of the day – it’s the goals that get the wins”. There really isn’t any argument for that, but let’s just assume Russia didn’t snatch the equaliser with seconds to go – would all this negativity still be rearing its ugly head for the same overall performance? No – people would be glad that England had finally ended their hoodoo of never winning an opening game of the European championships, the Lions would be joint top of the group with Wales with that showdown still to come.
Ultimately, I really don’t think there is anything to worry about just yet – I think people raging that it’s the “same old England” and claiming that “that’s us out at the groups yet again then” certainly need to curb their pessimism and support the team that they claim to love. Give them the support they need, because if the players aren’t getting the backing they will surely start to question exactly what the point is – they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yes, that shouldn’t affect their performances as they are professionals who are expected to do a job, but anyone who goes with that point of view is frankly missing the whole point of the sport, and undermining their own value as supporters.
If the score was 1-0, people would not be using those same arguments, fans nor media alike – instead they would be calling it a “solid start” and a “great foundation on which to build a successful tournament”. So, basically, because of a single goal that didn’t reflect the way the entire match went, all of that optimism fades away, giving way to annoyance and ire?
Again – bollocks. I urge England fans to forget that single goal, and look at the overall performance – it wasn’t perfect by any stretch, don’t get me wrong. Indeed, one heavily discussed topic I can agree with is those questioning just why 6ft-plus Harry Kane was taking corners, aiming for 5ft 7 Raheem Sterling in the box – that’s a bit backward, but as mentioned before, if it wasn’t for Akinfeev’s heroics it wouldn’t have mattered as we would have had a comfortable cushion by the half time whistle.
At the start of the tournament, I was quietly worried about England’s ability to navigate a path through the group stages to the next round. By full-time, while we could have been in a better position, that pessimism became optimism. That’s always assuming the fans don’t end up getting the team disqualified – though the clashes between the supporters after the game, it has to be said, are not generally seen to be the fault of the English supporters, but UEFA must have enough evidence of their involvement to threaten sanctions if the trouble continued. That is another discussion for another day – I just hope the vast majority of all nation’s fans who have travelled to the tournament to genuinely enjoy the football on offer can do just that, and the idiots don’t ruin it for them.
So come on ladies and gents – forget missing out on two points (because that’s what we did – we didn’t gain one, we missed out on two) – and take solace in the fact that England actually looked a class above their opponents at a major tournament for the first time in years. Maybe, just maybe, things will go our way next time out against Wales and we can see the path through to the next stage.
Fifty years of hurt never stopped me dreaming.