So, ten days on from my post asking England fans to start encouraging the team, and I must admit it’s been something of a frustrating group stage.
England, as I said before, have played really quite well. They’ve had the lions’ share (pun intended) of the possession in two of their three group games, and that middle game was a really close battle between two of the three home nations in the tournament. There is something of an irony to the fact that in the two games that England seemingly dominated, they came away with a draw – whereas the one game where the opposition came out and gave England a game, Roy Hodgson’s men were able to snatch the win.
It’s a bit strange that the only team England have beaten thus far went on to win the group, but there is a very logical reason for that – Russia and Slovakia basically allowed England to attack, and played a very defensive game right from the outset. Wales, however, know there is something to gain from a tournament which they entered with nothing to lose, and played some attacking football of their own.
Speaking to some of the locals on my present holiday, there is a feeling that Wales’ attacking intentions opened things up at the back for England to break through, and that very same approach could prove their downfall. I disagree with that somewhat, because defending is all fine and well, as you are improving your chances of avoiding defeat.
What it doesn’t do, however, is drastically improve your chances of winning. Russia and Slovakia frustrated England massively – but they didn’t get the win against them. The Welsh, while they came up short against England, did manage to win their other two games and consequently the group. Especially considering their relative underdog status, I think that approach will serve Chris Coleman’s team well.
England, meanwhile, face a last-16 tie with Iceland. On paper, England do have the stronger group of individuals, and indeed one would like to think they have the better team as a whole. However, it likely won’t be as easy as many seem to think – because Iceland have played a massively defensive game since the tournament’s outset. They’ve averaged only about 29% possession across their first three games, but yet they have qualified against the odds. England have struggled to break down staunch defences so far, and Iceland have-when they did manage to hold the ball –looked sharp and just a bit dangerous moving forward.
I do think England have enough to make it to the quarter finals, and I expect things will turn into a somewhat uphill battle from then on. But I’m bracing myself for another couple of hours screaming at the TV and holding my head in my hands just wanting England to find that spark, and find that weak link, to get through and bang in a goal or two. Iceland are up for this, make no mistake – they won’t just go quietly into the night.
Another couple of wins and England can pretty much look back and be proud. Even a win over Iceland, meaning a quarter-final appearance, would be much better than we have had in recent years, and a positive sign for the future given the fairly young average age of the squad.
For now, though, let me paraphrase Sunderland supporters when they reached the League Cup Final in 2014, by finishing with this: