Familiar English feelings surface at Euros

So, normal service has been resumed at the European Championships.

Thursday, 23rd June 2016, 8:24 am
Roy Hodgson

Italy are being Italy. Defensively imperious with their sum far greater than their parts.

Germany are being German. Efficient and relentless. Ominously threatening.

France are being France. Dangerous and threatening, but also potentially volatile and combustible.

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Spain are being Spain. Dominant and patient in possession. Tiki-takaing for fun.

And England, of course, are being England.

Two years ago, national apathy reigned as Roy Hodgson oversaw England’s first failure to qualify from their group at a World Cup since 1958.

Hodgson spoke of his satisfaction at a 0-0 draw in the final game against the powerhouse nation of Costa Rica.

The performance in Brazil should have ensured Hodgson’s career as England boss went no further.

Still, he has remained and created enough impetus to ensure that perennial pre-tournament optimism surfaced ahead of the kick-off in France.

It took a stoppage-time leveller against Russia and Monday’s frustrating final group game against Slovakia for that to dissipate.

In their three Group F fixtures to date, England have exhibited all the traits we have come to associate them with.

There has been moments of promise, cause for hope even.

But then arrives the soft underbelly and lapses which will, in all probability, prove their downfall.

That, and an inability to unpick the most basic rearguard actions, with passing patterns which are predictable and pedestrian.

It would be unfair to paint a picture of what has unfolded so far in Marseille, Lille and Saint Etienne as bereft of any positives.

England, by any reasonable judge, have been the better side in each of their outings without really firing.

Fifteen shots were racked to Russia’s six in the opener. The football played, for decent spells, was encouraging.

England then came from behind to snare late victory against Wales – the first time they’ve done so at a major tournament after being down at the break.

The Slovakia group finale had England topping 60 per cent possession with 29 shots on goal.

But to watch Hodgson’s side founder at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard was to see all the limitations in the English game.

The gamble to make six changes backfired and exposed the paucity of depth to the squad.

Jack Wilshire, in particular, toiled in a side which looked as disjointed as was expected from the changes.

Besides conceding the bragging rights of finishing top of the group, it, in theory, gives England a tougher run the deeper they now go.

Hosts France look likely opponents in the quarter-finals.

Significantly, however, there was a chance to gain momentum off the back of the late winner against Wales.

To have the feelgood factor arrive from the Three Lions was like opening the door to a lost family member. Emotions last felt long ago were rekindled.

But it was to be just a fleeting visit, as the more familiar bedfellows of English fans – frustration and disappointment – returned.

And the more you look at those rivals for the Henri Delaunay Trophy, the more that irks.

Because for all the Italians masterly defensive skills, they lack potency.

For all of France’s swagger there’s an over-reliance on Dimitri Payet.

Germany are concerned by the lack of a standout player to lead the line.

Spain, likewise, don’t have a natural goalscorer and were exposed by Croatia’s vibrant promise.

No rivals strike fear into the heart, but England’s familiar deficiencies mean they sadly appear in no place to take advantage.