It's so so disppointing that seemingly Championship after Championship we get knocked out on penalties. Is it a curse? Is it nerves? Is it a lack of footballing ability to score from 12 yards? I have no idea. But could anyone who really knows the game of football believe that England deserved to go through? I don't think so. We were simply second best to everything. Outplayed by a superior passing team. Out worked by a hard working team, and we were very fortunate to even have been given the chance of going through with a penalty shoot out. Italy deserved it. Those that know me, will know how much i hate losing and the fact I often blame outside influences. But today is not one of those cases.
England's expectations going into this tournament were at an all time low. We were relaxed as we were not expecting miracles from this team. Those expectations were exceeded when they ualified as group winners, undefeated and seemingly looking like they could grind out the right results come the knock out stage. The avoidance of Spain was another bonus and expectations rose at this point knowing a game against the italians awaited. I believed we could get through, however scrappy the game got.
THE GAME ITSELF
The first 15 minutes were more exciting than the whole 90 minutes in the Spain vs. France game. Chances either end, but seeing England miss theirs just didn't settle well with me. I always thought we would need an early goal to stand a chance in this game, but we couldn't get it. Italy controlled the game from then on and Pirlo was absolutely class throughout. His ball possession and passing was a joy to behold and he's 33 years old! From the middle of the 2nd half, bar the odd moments, this game was heading to penalties.
The selection of Milner again was defensive from the off and he continued to have his uninfluential tournament for England, offering just a bit of hard work but no creativity to the team. Walcott probably should have been in from the start, though when he did come on, England could not keep the ball enough to get him into the game.
The back 5 did themselves proud once more, with John Terry for me being the stand out England player on the day. For me, Glen Johnson switches off all too often and I am very critical of him I must admit. Sometimes very sloppy in possession too, but did OK today.
Gerrard was again excellent, though looked very tired in the 2nd half. Parker struggled somewhat against the numbers in midfield of the Italians. He also showed where his game struggles as he was very poor in possession and got dispossessed a lot. But he can be very proud of a very positive tournament none the less. Ashley Young was disappointing again, I think more so because we expect better from him, although still inexperienced on the International stage.
Rooney again failed to deliver at a Championships. He was undoubtably England's worst player against Italy. Looked off the pace, tired, his touch was poor and he struggled immensely to hold up the ball, something England missed until Carroll's inclusion. There was an arguement that the Welbeck Carroll partnership should have been given more of a chance, and Rooney's 2 performances highlighted this. I know he got an extended holiday after the season and maybe that was too long as his sharpness was definitely far shorter than many in the squad.
Welbeck is one player, along with Carroll who can hold their heads high. They both did a great job for a team who lost out on possession in every game of the tournament. They worked hard, chased balls down and held the ball up well throughout.
Pretty faultless performance by Roy Hodgson, considering how short a period of time he was in charge of the team. Made crucial changes at important times, no better than the inclusion of Walcott against Sweden. Not scared to make those changes either and stuck by key selections, including John Terry, who certainly paid Hodgson back with solid performances. Set a weak England team up to ensure they were difficult to break down. Brought in good quality coaches including Gary neville who I thought influenced the team harmony immesely and helped bring the group of players close together. There was no infighting, no tabloid stories, no dramas, and it was great that this was the case.
He set every player a job to do and he should be proud of his performance.
Although I am disappointed that we couldn't progress, I am fairly satisfied by the teams overall performance. Undefeated is no mean feat at International level and that is an achievement in itself. Going into the tournament with low expectations and coming out disappointed to be exiting at the quarter finals stage is quite a nice feeling. It was good to see the players playing with a lot of heart and fight and also seeing a manager on the sidelines kicking every single ball, was a feeling that hasnt been felt for a long long time. The passion was back, which as supporters is what you want to see from your team. Players seemed delighted to be representing their country and wanted to fight for the three lions. A big improvement from 2 years ago.
A change I am certain will happen and Hodgson should look to continue to draft younger players into the squad. The inclusion of a fit again Jack Wilshire who outplayed the Barcelona midfield just over a year ago, will help to bolster the energy and creativity in the centre of the park. Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck to continue to progress and Walcott to become more consistant will help improve the balance of the squad. The emmergence of "the OX" will help to develop his wonderful talent as well.
The future looks bright and thats where we need to start looking now.