Sunday, 17 June 2012

Exit of Russians and Dutch Beneficial to England

One was considered the greatest pre-tournament threat to the Spain-Germany power axis. The other was, after the first round of fixtures, rightfully deemed the most impressive team in the competition. However, following two extremely dramatic nights in Poland & Ukraine, both Holland and Russia were unceremoniously dumped out of the European Championship. This can only be beneficial to England.

On a purely selfish and idealistic note, the exit of two legitimate contenders at the Group Stage dilutes the quality of the draw. Though it may be purely hypothetical at this stage, England will take great confidence initially for counting among potential semi-final opponents the likes of Greece and Czech Republic. This can only engender a greater urgency to progress, a greater confidence in their own convictions, a greater hunger and excitement back home.

Furthermore, the Russian capitulation, in particular, holds a particular moral message for England. It was, at the start of play on Saturday evening, almost inconceivable to predict anything other than a smooth Russian progression. Under Dick Advocaat, Russia had set the tournament alight in its first week when demolishing a mediocre Czech Republic team. Thus, it was from a vantage point atop the group that the Russian took on a poor and meagre Greek side needing only a point to prosper. The mere fact that Greece, once again, shocked the continent with a footballing yarn of insatiable drama should serve to warn England: in this tournament, complacency equals extinction.

This is a message which must be forthright in the mind of Roy Hodgson and the England players as they limber up and prepare for Tuesday's monumental showdown with Ukraine. Many seem to be tipping England for immediate and absent-minded success against the co-hosts. However, a team can never be too confident; a maxim that England, of all nations, know only too well. Therefore, Russia's malfunctioning and brash over-confidence will be beneficial in presenting unto England a model of how not to approach the business of qualification.

On the other hand, the tale of Holland in Group B is a tale of woe. The Dutch, so perpetually tipped as realistic contenders, will tomorrow board a plane home without so much as even a mere troubling of the points column. Despite harbouring an extensive and star-encrusted fleet of attacking components, the Dutch, ultimately, managed to score only two goals, whilst looking shambolic and disjointed in structure and mentality. This, too, England can work from. For Roy Hodgson, the palpable lack of Dutch cohesion and spirit can act as propaganda to condition and reaffirm the copious reserves of each, in which our squad luxuriates. By showing what can happen without a decipherable work ethic nor a semblance of togetherness, Holland have, for this tournaments remaining teams, offered a caveat.

For Roy Hodgson, then, and for the football players and fans of England, the exit terminal defeat of both Russia and Holland can inspire great confidence. From these select and advantageous eliminations, England can excavate a greater understanding of tournament football and its culture; can become conscious and aware of how not to do things in the remaining time of Group Stage life; can grow in stature and confidence. On Tuesday night in Donetsk, facing a hungry host, England will need all of the above in abundance. 

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