Before I get into major issue of this post, I’d like to post some stats.
England have earned precisely four points (or the equivalent) after two games in several competitions in the past:
Winners: 1966 World Cup – including a goalless draw with Uruguay in the opening game that got some less than favourable write ups in the press the following day.
Semi finals: Euro 1996 – including a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game that got some less than favourable reaction in the press the following day.
Quarter finalists: 1954 and 2002 World Cups, Euro 2012
Round of 16: Euro 2016
*1954 and 1966 World Cups: two points per win. Additionally there were only two group games in 1954.
Basically, when seen in the context of last night’s result against Scotland, every time England have won four points from two games in every major tournament since World War II, we’ve qualified for the next round. But if you were watching ITV last night, you’d have thought England had lost. I can understand Graeme Souness being pleased at how Scotland performed and Roy Keane did his best to be neutral but quite frankly Ian Wright was just saying the first thing that came into his head. I know everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I can’t be arsed to listen to post match speculation when it’s as knee jerk as that.
After the draw between Croatia and the Czech Republic at Hampden, the only way Scotland could qualify was by beating either England or Croatia. They failed to beat England and – just like against the Czechs on Monday – failed to score. Now Scotland will have to beat Croatia by two clear goals and hope other results go their way, including a decisive one at Wembley next Tuesday, With Austria and Finland having both already won three points and with Spain and Germany playing today. It’s an uphill struggle for them, but that’s really not our problem is it?
As for having only scored one goal so far, it’s not as if that’s unprecedented either: interestingly though, it’s only the fourth time in 24 tournaments that we’ve *not* conceded a goal in the first two games and the first time since the 2006 World Cup finals (Marcus Allbaeck of Sweden ended that particular run in the epic 2-2 draw in the last game).
As things stand after last night’s game, we’d be travelling to Denmark to meet Slovakia on Monday 28th June but as I mentioned the other day, don’t bank on it. I’m far from downbeat about England, largely because I’ve been a football fan for fifty years and we’ve been in far, far worse situations over that period.
But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Update: after Monday night’s result, England are through to the next round. With four points and with a game to spare. The record continues.
Three years, one World Cup semi final and one pandemic later, Euro 2020 is finally underway and a new post is well overdue.
A few weeks ago – when I started planning the resurrection of this blog – I was thinking how nice to have something to look forward to after the last year and a bit we’ve had: one of the main reasons that the Euros could turn out to be a lot of fun basically because it’s a distraction from what’s going on around us in public health terms as well as being an very different way to run a tournament. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the original plan of having multiple hosts was made by Michel Platini, who has gone from international superstar to persona non grata within world football.
As ever, the question is if England are going to win it. The bookies think so, but they always think that and when was the last time you saw a bookie on a bike? We don’t have a particularly good record in the Euros – two losing semi final appearances, the last of which was a quarter of a century ago – and with a recent record that’s not disimilar to two of our group stage opponents, but still better than our northern neighbours, who we meet next Friday.
However, I’d say there are grounds for cautious optimism this time round. The latest FIFA rankings – which won’t be updated until after the tournament – have England in 3rd place in the UEFA table (behind Belgium and France) and 4th in the world. Considering that three of the last five winners of the Euros were in the top five teams in the World before those respective tournaments started, that’s a pretty good standard. The major outlier was Greece (2004) who were roughly at the same level as Hungary are at the moment.
However, the fact that we’re hosting the final – as opposed to being the hosts – is a bit of a problem. In case you needed reminding, we’ve done rather well in tournaments that we’ve hosted, but the Euros haven’t been won by the country that hosted the final since France won in 1984. I think it’s fair to say that home advantage is a bit of a red herring these days – it’s been 23 years since the host won the World Cup – but even so I can’t see England failing to qualify from the group. We did it in both 1966 and 1996 but if we win the group then we hit a considerable hurdle: the prospect of Portugal, Germany or France in the Round of Sixteen.
Admittedly that will be at Wembley, but a more tortuous but possibly easier route to the final might be coming second in the group and giving up home advantage to play in Copenhagen possibly either Sweden or Poland or even trying to be a best third placed team and taking your chances that way. A narrow defeat to Croatia tomorrow wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as long as four points were earned against the Scots and Czechs, However that’s an incredibly risky strategy to attempt and failure to qualify from the group really isn’t an option, especially with fan expectations being possibly more febrile than usual.
And that would have been the end of this post. I was intending to follow up on Monday with my thoughts on Sunday’s game, but as you all know by now, something potentially catastrophic happened in this evening’s game between Denmark and Finland. I was watching with my wife and we both feared the worst when we saw the close ups – which really shouldn’t have been broadcast – of Christian Eriksen clearly in considerable distress. Fortunately, Eriksen was taken to hospital – where he is now stable and recovering – but once again it’s a reminder that life is precious and football is only a game.
As some of you already know, we lost all the content from March 2013 but in some respects that was a blessing in disguise – it means we don’t have anything to refer to from the disastrous outings in the last two tournaments.
A bit like the England team itself in that case.
There are only five players in this squad that went to Brazil four years ago and so this is practically a brand new side – the veteran is Ashley Young, who is five months older than Gary Cahill despite having won 24 fewer caps – and the only teenager in the side is Trent Alexander-Arnold. This looks like a squad for the future, but time will tell.
That being said, England are currently 16/1 to win the whole thing – about right considering it’s been 12 years since we got to the quarter finals and 28 since the semi finals – but that’s a bigger price than both our Group G rivals Belgium and arguably the least impressive Argentinian side since 2002.
With all due respect to both Panama and Tunisia, for once I agree with both the bookies and the pundits: the group is been us and Belgium, but as we face the Red Devils last it may come down to who can score the most goals against Panama. The Belgians get first crack at that next Monday (BBC1, 4:00pm) before we take on Tunisia (BBC1, 7:00pm) so at least we’ll have an idea of what we need to achieve in our second game (against Panama, Sunday 24th June, BBC1, 1:00pm).
Goals are where the potential issues are: only Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck have scored more than ten goals in their international careers and – unlike previous tournaments – they aren’t going to get much help in that respect from the midfield. In some respects Kane is comparable to Romelu Lukaku – he’s two months younger and they have similar strike rates in international games – but we don’t have anyone like Kevin DeBruyne or even Marouane Fellaini behind them.
The other problem with Belgium might be familiarity. Eleven of the Belgian squad play in the Premier League and four of them belong to Spurs – that’s only one fewer Tottenham player than in the England squad. But it’s also worth remembering that since their fourth place finish in Mexico ’86, Belgium haven’t got past the second round in a European based World Cup Finals tournament since 1990. Here’s a reminder of the last time they got that far:
Assuming we do get out of Group G – and a draw with Belgium should probably be enough – our next opponents will be one of the qualifiers from Group H. That section has been widely predicted as the most open of all the groups this summer and I’d agree with that: although Colombia reached the second round in Italia 90, it’s been 36 years since Poland qualified from the group stage in a ‘European’ World Cup and neither Japan nor Senegal have ever done that. We could be in trouble if it’s Poland: they’ve been rated higher in than us in the ever reliable (!) FIFA rankings since February 2017 and although they’ve not beaten us for 45 years, records like that are made to be broken.
After that it’s anyone’s guess. As for predictions, I’d say that another unsuccessful trip to the quarter finals is probably on the cards but as long as the team performs at a better level than 2014 – not an unrealistic expectation – then the fans can be happy. A little bit of luck and we might even lose narrowly to the Germans yet again.
From a wider perspective, in the same way as winning the Champions League and the Premier League seem to have become competitions that only elite teams can win, I’m not expecting a ‘new’ name on the World Cup this summer.
However, it’s worth pointing out that no country has won consecutive titles since Brazil in 1962 and with some serious questions about the morale of the Germany squad following an ill advised photo session that featured Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan with the Turkish PM, the Germans might not retain their title.
Spain – who sacked their manager yesterday – have a dreadful record in European based tournaments and despite been written off, Argentina actually have a slightly better record than Brazil do when playing in European World Cups.
Like most of us, I’ll probably have a much better idea of who might win the whole thing in a couple of weeks time but the two teams I’ll be following are Brazil and France: the former because they have a point to prove after their disastrous semi final four years ago and the latter because – on paper at least – they have the talent to compete with the Latin Americans. The question with the French is whether Didier Deschamps can utilise that talent effectively.
Finally for now, here are a few games that could be worth following:
Potential Upset: Russia v Egypt (Tuesday June 19th, BBC 1, 7:00pm BBC1)
I know FIFA rankings can be a bit odd, but Egypt overtook Russia in June 2016 and even though it was against the Soviet Union, the Egyptians won their only previous meeting back in June 1991. I also think there’s the possibility of a surprise result in the game between Argentina and Iceland (Saturday, 7pm ITV) but that may be along the lines of Argentina not winning.
England’s possible next opponents: Poland v Colombia (Sunday June 24th, ITV, 7:00pm)
Four hours or so after England v Panama finishes so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Best game between two sides that may not qualify for The Round Of Sixteen:
Australia v Peru (Monday June 26th, ITV 3:00pm)
The assumption is that France and Denmark will qualify from Group B, but if anything upsets that plan then both of these teams might need to win to qualify for the next round: this pair are suspect defensively so there might be a few goals in a game that features two very colourful kits.
Most entertaining triple header: Wednesday 27th June
South Korea v Germany (BBC, 3:00pm, BBC)
Mexico v Sweden (BBC2, 3:00pm)
Brazil v Serbia (ITV, 7:00pm)
Brazil and Germany finish their group games on the same day. Although both of them should have qualified for the The Round of Sixteen, Serbia might need a point or three to join them. If South Korea v Germany starts getting out of hand, turn over to Mexico v Sweden on BBC2 because that’s probably going to be the game that settles the runners up in Group F.
Next scheduled post: a preview of England v Tunisia, which will be up at some point on Monday!