Monday, 11 June 2012

Intriguing England Difficult to Read

Increasingly, this is an England of intrigue. Increasingly, this is an England of complexity and of polarising opinion. The opening competitive fixture of the Roy Hodgson reign was typically difficult to analyse and read. Through all of the nerves and angst, twitching and screaming, we watched our national team employ tactics so open to debate and conjecture. It may be banal and stoic, but it is effective. Do we know what to think?

The banner headlines to be deduced most forthrightly from this opening Championship game are positive. It is held by the footballing fraternity as gospel that every team endeavour to remain unbeaten in the first game. This, we managed. Furthermore, positives can be raised, once again, in the effectiveness of Roy's defensive ethics. We did not lose, and, consequentially, we are still in the realm of Group D significance. In many ways, ours was a performance steeped in a conscious tournament ethos.

The first half, most evidently, was our great chance. With guts and determination, we were able to muster a style and system of balance and poise; weighing, in harmony, the responsibility of attack as well as defence. Such a blanket notion not only was effective in negating the threat of the French forward line, but it allowed England to progress in a counter-attacking manner of pertinence. Thus, chances of golden parameters were created. Milner fooled Lloris but found not euphoria but side-netting. Welbeck was a consistent thorn in the thinking of Blanc. We were doing just fine.

Then, we scored. All hell broke loose, in spurts of euphoria and jubilation as, up from the back, Joleon Lescott met with vengeance a fine Steven Gerrard free-kick. Gloriously unmarked, Lescott crashed home his first ever International goal. England were worthy of the lead. England were, however, in a somewhat oxymoronic position. At this juncture, our lead was tantamount to propaganda for the school of thought arguing for our continued detraction and retraction. We went even deeper into our shell.

Oh how so kind of the French it was, then, to sucker punch the English. A zipping Nasri drive through the proverbial forest of legs flashed past the angle of Joe Hart's front post zone. With a ripple of a Donetsk net, that all-too-familiar feeling of English angst came flooding back into relevancy. At one-one, these two old foes retreated, once more, into a state of psyching one another out.

It is worth remembering that, beforehand, France were expected to beat England. It is worth remembering that, beforehand, France were expected to thus take initial command of Group D. They did neither. By hook, by crook, by brute determination, commitment and heart, this new England would not let them. The stated aim and design specification of this fresh French team is to, with small, intricate and complex passing and probing, find and, ultimately, exploit, any appearing gap. In the England backline, no such gap appeared. Rarely did France achieve their goal, failing to get in behind the defence with any degree of regularity.

Frustration came, though, as England spluttered in the attacking transitions. Marooned in such a defensive rigidity, the midfield was limited in its expression and panache. Many would argue that, as a team without Wayne Rooney, we cannot have our cake and eat it. However, there is a strong, rippling undercurrent which advocates the view that, with a little splash of adventure, a little more athleticism, a little more spontaneity, England could have won this game.

Regardless, ours was a performance awash with pragmatism, smothered with a pleasing and purposeful maturity. It was striking just how well-drilled, well-regimented and well-coached this team is. Slowly, but surely, Roy Hodgson's ideological fingerprints are catching a grasp of this crop of player. A work in progress, England display the shoots of truly heroic potentiality.


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