An Englishman, A Scotsman and An Irishman Walk Into A Studio…

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.

Scotland Mini Preview

Having now watched all or part of all of the games so far in Euro 2020, I’m happy with what I’ve seen from England so far.

I’d also watched Croatia‘s last warm up game – a defeat to Belgium – and it was noticeable they had no bite up front in that game so I wasn’t completely surprised by that last weekend. You could argue that Scotland were unlucky to lose to the Czechs on Monday, but both of the goals were caused by naivety that you don’t often see on the international arena.

As things stand currently – Sweden v Slovakia has just finished – we’d probably be playing Slovakia in the next round in Copenhagen on Monday 28th June but it’s fair to say that there’s almost no point in making plans for that as there’s a lot of football to be played in the group stages.

There’ve been a load of stuff written about this game and so I’m going to keep this brief:

We’re 40 places about the Scots in the FIFA rankings; Scotland have never been higher than England in the rankings since the rankings were created in 1992 and the average difference between us is about the same as it’s always been.

We haven’t played our northern neighbours since October 2016 when we won 3-0 and they’ve not beaten us at Wembley since the second leg of the Euro 2000 playoffs, which was also the last competitive game we played against Scotland; Gareth Southgate played in the 1999 game and was manager in the most recent. Scotland won their last away game (against the mighty Luxembourg at the start of this month) but had only won four of their previous ten matches on the road including wins in Cyprus and San Marino. England have only lost one of their last ten games at Wembley: a 1-0 defeat by Denmark in October last year when Harry McGuire and Reece James were both sent off.

Prediction: England to win comfortably by at least two goals. Back later if I’m not too refreshed 🙂

Update: OK it didn’t go as expected, but earning a point and keeping a clean sheet isn’t the worst thing in the world. As for the ITV ‘pundits’…

We’re Back.

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.

Enjoy tomorrow. I think we’ve all deserved it.

Plenty Of Positives To Be Taken From England’s Draw With France

Looks like my doom and gloom about the Euro 2012 campaign was based almost entirely on my dental requirements. Yesterday we saw a different type of England performance: more conservative and defensively minded than we’ve seen for a while, but apart from Samir Nasri’s goal, the French threat was dealt with effectively.

Anyway, enough from me. Richard Smith takes a look at last night’s game and gives his ratings. Next up: Sweden on Friday.

Roy Hodgson and his England team can come away from their opening game at Euro 2012 against France pleased with themselves having earned a very creditable draw. France looked like a good all round team and one which will pose problems for any side in the tournament.

If France do have a weakness, it is in the central defensive partnership of Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes, which was exploited, firstly when James Milner ran on to a superb through ball into the box from Ashley Young but fluffed his lines by putting the ball into the side netting after rounding the keeper. Not long afterwards Joleon Lescott made amends for Milner’s miss after he rose highest to head England into a 1-0 lead from a well flighted Steven Gerrard free kick. It was exactly the start England had been looking for but it was also a goal that prompted the French into a more positive and direct mood.

France began to exert themselves after going behind, putting England under plenty of pressure with a number of clever runs from the often irksome, Frank Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema. However, England fought them off manfully with Gerrard and Scott Parker becoming increasingly busy in front of their own back four. They had Joe hart’s reflexes to thank for keeping the score at 1-0 after Diarra’s header from a free kick looked a certain goal. There was little that anyone could do however about Nasri’s goal that levelled the match after 39 minutes. His shot was a quick-fire accurately struck effort that found the bottom right hand corner of Joe Hart’s net and although disappointing for the England defenders, it was the reward for France’s positive attitude shown after going a goal behind.

In an overall sense, the second half belonged to France although England still created a number of counter attacks that showed promise. French efforts came in from Benzema who looked a class act up front; Ribery continued his trickery from both flanks and as is his trait, continued to fall over spectacularly every time he was fairly tackled. Cabaye was a constant thorn in the midfield and although Nasri tired, he still produced some of the best individual football seen on the night.

For England, there was no one that could be described as the outstanding man of the match, but there was no-one who played poorly. The entire team put in a good solid shift and they were well led by Gerrard. Scott Parker as is his hallmark put his body on the line, charging down at least two shots that were otherwise goal bound, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain justified his selection with a couple of lively touches when going forwards and he showed plenty of maturity when it came to defending. His naiveté at this level did cost him a booking however but apart from that, England fans should be pleased with his contribution.

Overall, England probably surprised a few people with their performance and it was one which certainly offers encouragement ahead of the remaining two group games and hopefully beyond! The odds about England winning Euro 2012 were cut from 14/1 to 12/1 on the back of the this result and Hodgson’s men are 4/7 to make the Quarter Finals and are 2/1 chance to win the group.

England Player Ratings

Joe Hart – 7: A couple of good saves but handling a little unsure at times.

Glen Johnson – 7: A good all round game who joined the attack whenever match prudence allowed.

John Terry – 7: Made a couple of significant tackles on Benzema and cleared his lines well when necessary.

Joleon Lescott – 8: Formed a solid partnership with Terry but gets an extra point for scoring England’s goal.

Ashley Cole – 8: Played to his usual high standard and always offering his support to the attack. Combined well with Oxlade-Chamberlain, both in defence and attack.

James Milner – 7: Not always able to make the crosses that Hodgson had hoped for, but played with a great industry and was always reliable when needing to defend.

Steven Gerrard – 7: Led by example, but finding himself defending more than he was attacking. He and Parker formed what must have appeared to be a brick wall at times in the deep midfield, which regularly succeeded in breaking up French play.

Scott Parker – 7: Put in a typical performance, full of effort, unflinching tackles and great desire to succeed.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7: A very encouraging start to the tournament who fully justified his selection. He dazzled in one movement in the first half which saw him skilfully go past two French defenders in the blink of an eye.

Ashley Young – 7: Not always the most prominent but Young showed that he was up to the task of filling Wayne Rooney’s boots. He combined well with Danny Welbeck and although never really getting close to scoring, he showed enough deftness to fill the same role against Sweden later this week.

Danny Welbeck – 7: A very encouraging display which should be enough to give him the nod over Andy Carroll for the next match. He put in plenty of endeavour although the threat that he posed in the first half an hour slowly diminished as the game developed.

It’s September, it’s raining and we’re playing Wales…

You’ve got to hand it to Wales – bottom of the group without any wins or hope of qualification and they beat our nearest rivals on Friday night. We’re now three points clear at the top of the group with a far superior goal difference to Montenegro going into tonight’s game.

We’ve not played Wales at Wembley since February 1983 (the qualifier for the 2006 World Cup was played at Old Trafford) which surprised me a bit because I grew up with the old Home International tournament and we played each other at least once a year until that competition was abandoned almost 30 years ago.

Before anyone gets too carried away, it’s worth pointing out that in the last ten meetings between England and Wales where we’ve been the home team we’ve only lost once (0-1 in May 1977) but we’ve only won four of those games. Five games were drawn, including the match in Janary 1973 that arguably did more damage to England’s chances of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup qualifying competition than both of the disastrous games against with Poland.

It’s worth highlighting our recent home record against the Welsh because we’ve drawn three of our four home games since beating Bulgaria a year ago – our poorest run of home form for about five years. Wales are currently on a four game losing streak away from Cardiff but won’t need any motivating for this game: however, they’ve had a problem scoring away from home recently – one goal in four games going back to before the last World Cup – and it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if England kept a clean sheet.

Regarding team news, Wales have Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy and David Vaughan (Sunderland) suspended but Jack Collison is expected to return even though if he plays tonight FIFA rules means that he’s committed his international future to Wales - the West Ham midfielder has only previously appeared in friendlies, which means he could theoretically still switch to England.

We’re going to be missing Leighton Baines, Darren Bent and Micah Richards but as none of them played any part in the win at the weekend it looks very much as if the same team that won at the weekend will start tonight’s game.

TV coverage is on ITV1 with the waffle and hype part of the show (featuring Frank’s fiancee’s mate Adrian) starting at 7:00pm before the game kicks off 45 minutes later. As usual with ITV’s bizarre football coverage, if you’ve missed the game for some reason there’ll be a break for the news at 10:00pm and then you can watch highlights. I’m sure there must be people who’ll miss the live game for good reasons, but it’s basically saying to the rest of us ‘turn over or go to bed’…

Wales Preview

I’ve got to be honest, I’m completely underwhelmed by today’s game. If England don’t win by more than two goals I think Capello should resign immediately. This game looks like a mythical third round FA Cup tie – something like Histon v Liverpool.

To begin, let’s start with some facts. We’ve only lost three times in Wales since World War II, the last time was a 0-1 defeat at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham in May 1982, a game in the last Home International Tournament.

We’ve won eight of the last ten meetings in Wales, there’s not been a draw since April 1970 and we’ve only failed to score twice in the last 20 games over the bridge.

Wales have won 9 of their last 20 internationals at home but only four of their last ten – and those were against those well known powerhouses Liechtenstein, Estonia, Scotland (stiffles giggle) and Luxembourg. They haven’t won a Euro qualifier at home since beating San Marino four years ago.

Fifteen of the 24 players in the Welsh squad for the game – that’s 62% of them – play outside the Premier League. If Wales could play like Swansea then this game would be a lot closer, but there are only three Swansea players in the squad. 

(BTW if Swansea get promoted from the Championship, they’re worth watching: a budget Barcelona until they get to the opposition penalty box where they turn into a poor man’s Arsenal and try to pass the ball into the net)

As for all the nonsense about giving John Terry back the captaincy, all I’m going to say is that I really hope that Spurs either beat Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League or put up such a fantastic performance that appointing Harry Redknapp as next England manager is obvious even to the dunderheads at the FA.

Capello’s ‘decision’ to reappoint John Terry as captain just shows what a busted flush he is as a manager and even though I expect us to qualify for next year’s tournament, I think it’ll be the same old story when we get to Poland/Ukraine I’m afraid.

Verdict: Wales will be fired up for about ten minutes after the crowd at the Millennium Stadium have finished singing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, Craig Bellamy will attempt to decapitate Wayne Rooney if he can get anywhere near him…and then England will score and the game will be over.

Postscript: I think we might have a tougher game against Ghana next week.

2010: Annus Mediocris

After the World Cup we had, it’s not too difficult to feel at least a twinge of sympathy with our near neighbours, although on the other hand it’s also quite difficult to suppress any giggling.

In some respects the French campaign in South Africa was so wonderfully dysfunctional that it’s hard to imagine any other team self destructing with such panache; at least Italy nearly made it to the second round although at least they have some previous when it comes to underperfoming in Africa.

The sanctions the French FA imposed on their squad in the aftermath of both the performance on the pitch and the histrionics off it look like a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Tonight’s friendly can be seen from two contradictory angles. On the optimistic side, it’s an opportunity for both sides to field players with minimal international experience who wouldn’t normally make a contribution in the hope that a couple of them will make a breakthrough. From a negative point of view, the game will feature ‘experimental’  (ie under strength) sides and concludes a year that arguably could and should have been more successful for both sides. That’s certainly the way French manager Laurent Blanc seems to see it (some knowledge of French required).

The problem we’ve got – again – is goals. Montenegro’s clean sheet was the first time that we’ve failed to score at home since February 2007, when a goal from Andres Iniesta was enough for a Spanish win at Old Trafford. Fab’s hands have been tied with the usual crop of withdrawals and injuries, which is why the (ahem) ‘troubled but talented’ Andy Carroll of Newcastle will probably start up front; presumably he got the nod before Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd because Cardiff aren’t in the Premiership…yet.

The only other confirmed starters are Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs – when there’s some kind of news about what the team actually is, we’ll have it here.

With just under two weeks to go before the announcement of the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, it’s fair to say that – for whatever reason – our chances of winning the bid are slightly worse than they were at the beginning of the year.

The incident concerning Lord Triesman was regrettable even if there may have been something to it; the perception of the Sunday Times enquiry into vote buying may have damaged the bid even though it seems public perception refuses to blame the journalists, who were right to investigate what was happening.

So the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia will be made by a discredited body that won’t even have enough time to investigate itself before announcing where the next two competitions will be held.

Don’t hold your breath and be prepared for more disappointment. However, if by some miracle we actually win the bid, then mine’s several pints of Bombardier.

Update: starting line up against France:

Foster, Jagielka, Ferdinand, Lescott, Gibbs, Walcott, Henderson, Barry, Milner, Gerrard, Carroll.

Didn’t Ferdinand Lescott-Gibbs discover the Zambezi?

Will Capello Bring in ‘New Blood’ for Friendly with France?

Thanks to guest blogger Richard Smith for his thoughts about next week’s international – with the possible exception of Italy, France were probably the worst of the major European nations taking part in South Africa last summer…

England take on France next week at Wembley in what will be their last international of what has been an almost forgettable year. Almost forgettable in the sense that at least they seem to have picked up from where they left off before their woeful World Cup performances in South Africa.

Although unable to beat Montenegro at Wembley last month, England still look the best team in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, securing three wins from their four matches played thus far. They will go into 2011 in second place in the group, with a potentially feisty encounter against Wales their next group game at the end of March.

With the issue of who will be captain now decided in favour of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and John Terry can both concentrate on what they do best, by returning to their best form and confirming in the process, that they are both vital links in the England set up.

The match against France presents manager, Fabio Capello, the opportunity to include one or two youngsters, most notably perhaps, Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, who has been impressing plaudits since forcing himself into the Arsenal team. Wilshere made his debut of course against Hungary as a late substitute and has been in sparkling form for Arsenal since and could be given a start ahead of Gareth Barry, who has been well out of touch.

In the absence of first choice strikers, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Capello might even be persuaded to select Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who looks like he has far more about him than regular England pick, Peter Crouch; Carroll’s off the pitch behaviour might just put Capello off however.
Kevin Davies has continued to impress up front for Bolton, with his boss, Owen Coyle, calling him unplayable at the moment. Capello is a known admirer and gave him his debut as a substitute against Montenegro which strongly suggests that he, like Carroll, might get the nod over Crouch.

Another striker who has been receiving rave reviews all season is Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd, who has scored ten goals from 12 appearances for the ‘Bluebirds’ so far this season. Bothroyd was once upon a time on Arsenal’s books but was released by Arsene Wenger in 2000. He had spells at Coventry, Perugia in Italy, Blackburn, Charlton, Wolves, before finally settling at Cardiff, where he has a huge following. Whether Capello would dip into the The Championship though remains to be seen with David Nugent the last player outside of the Premier League to be capped in his only appearance under Steve McClaren in 2007.

Gary Cahill, team mate of Davies at Bolton could also get another chance, particularly after his fine display against Spurs last weekend. If Ferdinand and Terry are both fit then Cahill might have to content himself with a place on the bench, but he is certainly one for the future.

France who had an even worse time of it than England in South Africa have also picked up since Laurent Blanc took over the reins from Raymond Domenech in August. As is well known several of their players even went on strike in South Africa, unhappy with the way Domenech managed the team, players such as Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Patrick Evra of Manchester United received suspensions for their actions from the French FA.
France however come into the game against England having won their last three games and sitting on top of Euro 2012 qualification Group D with nine points from four games played. In those last three games they did not concede a goal. However, the England odds of 6/5 to win this game suggest that France’s change of form will come to a halt at Wembley; however, at 2/1 about the visitors, you know which of the two team’s odds make most appeal!

Hopefully, Capello will use this friendly against France to offer some new faces a chance to impress and at least finish what has been a disastrous year for the national team on a positive note.

Don’t Mention The Euro

The 1966 final has cast a shadow over past five or so decades: in some ways it’s difficult for those of us that do not have our own memories of the game to really believe it happened and that we actually beat the Germans, despite being witnessess to the win in Belgium in the European Championship and the simply astonishing 5-1 win in September 2001.

Playing the Germans in tournament football always seems to signify the end of an era. The 3-2 quarter final defeat in 1970 – after leading 2-0 – ended England’s reign as World Champions: just over two years later a 3-1 home defeat in the European Championships was the beginning of the end for Alf Ramsey: it was another eight years until we qualified for the final stages of a major international tournament. In 1982 two of the best players we had in the 1970s – Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking– made their only appearances in the World Cup in a 0-0 draw that knocked us out of that tournament, Keegan famously missing a late header. A similar story with the 1990 semi final: no-one would have predicted that game would have been Paul Gascoigne’s last game in the World Cup. Even when we hosted the European Championships in 1996, the Germans beat us. Last game at Wembley: Germany won.

So before this afternoon’s game, let’s not forget that our record against them since an Alan Shearer goal beat them in Euro 2000 is three wins and two defeats. And that they have never beaten us in a tournament game over 90 minutes in neutral territory.

There’s every reason to be confident of an England win within the context of what’s already happened in this tournament. The draw with the USA was dire, but the USA won the group and only crashed out to Ghana last night in extra time. The Algeria game was terrible and looking back on it that result cost us the group rather than Landon Donovan’s late goal against the Algerians; we’re in the ‘difficult’ half of the draw because we deserve to be. The Slovenia game was a must win and England woke up and started to play something like tournament football.

We’ve not had anyone sent of yet (don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that), we’ve not had the opportunity to thrash a poor team with ten men and we’ve not lost a game to the team that eventually finished bottom of our group have we? We also have an Italian coach: if you’re wondering why that’s significant, look at Italy’s record against Germany in the World Cup Finals. The Germans have never beaten the Italians and that includes two semi finals and a final. They won’t beat them again this year either!

A couple of weeks ago, Fabio Capello was being ridiculed everywhere; tomorrow, the red tops might be demanding an honorary knighthood. But remember that if we win, there’s a good chance we’ll be playing Argentina. A bit like beating the Cybermen in order to face the Daleks.

Here’s the team.