Why are we still surprised by England’s football failures?
Once again, England feels the pain from 12 yards as the battle of the 442s resolved nothing after 120 minutes.
As much as Sepp Blatter would like to save his hide in sourcing an alternative to the penalty shoot out (a measure of his need to obfuscate and leave a ‘legacy’ rather than altruism), the method is still the one to sort teams who can’t pull away in the normally allotted time.
It provides the denouement that all good sport has at its core and should not be changed.
Before spot kicks though, a fascinating tactical battle was played out. Observing the tweets during the game, you could be forgiven for thinking people were watching two completely different matches. Some believed Italy were unlucky not to be ahead at half time, while others, ignoring the lopsided possession stats, felt England were also unlucky.
Apart from a strong period from 5″ – 18″, England showed again their inferior capacity to keep possession individually and collectively in tight and open spaces. Roy Hodgson, perhaps with this knowledge, concentrated forward movements down the flanks, primarily down the right with Milner and Johnson, with the former delivering a glut of crosses, mostly predictable.
Over the full 120 minutes however, this external approach failed to match the Pirlo choreographed and executed use of the centre of the park, with consistent overlapping from Abate and Balzaretti keeping Cole and Johnson pegged back.
After considerable license to roam against Sweden and Ukraine, Gerrard’s style was considerably cramped by the Italian’s central interplay, while Pirlo’s distribution meant that one of Rooney or Wellback were committed to marking him. This was an admission of defeat, albeit a small one.
Rooney’s lack of match fitness was evident early on, and frankly he never improved. Maybe the only thing that kept him on was the prospect of spot kicks. When Pirlo was shadowed, Marchisio, De Rossi and Montolivo were also adept at keeping the ball.
But for all the domination of possession, Italy was blunt in the last third, with even less inspiring finishing. A player that features high on my most hated/most respected list, Pippo Inzaghi, would have been breaking items at regular intervals watching this as chance after chance came.
A duo of Inzaghi and Diego Milito (if he were to do a Motta) would have torn this game apart by half time. Curious was the introduction of Diamanti for Cassano over Di Natale. But as Diamanti sealed the win with Italy’s fourth penalty, Cesare Prandelli breathed a sigh of relief and begged his players to get in the ice baths.
As the tabloids conjure up new headlines describing the unsurprising outcome, my pick would have to be from The Sun “Ashes to Ashleys”, the sobering truth will stay ignored. The English public overrate their national team and still equate the status and appeal of their league with success internationally.
Hodgson knows this; anyone with half a football brain knows this. The EPL has glitz and glamour. It outbids the Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga but it still can not teach an Englishman to keep the ball.
Until it or a change in the system does, it will perennially be a case of almost, next time.
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