Ever since their heartbreaking loss to Germany in the 1990 World Cup, England fans and media have tried to big up their national team ahead of every major tournament. Where the hype is justified is another debate altogether because England have had no history of performing well in these tournaments.
There was hope that this year there would not be the usual hype around the team heading into the Euros. But that hasn’t meant to be. The moment Eric Dier won that friendly against Germany in Berlin, the hype machine gathered steam. Suddenly this team went from an inexperienced outfit to potential world beaters in a day and this undeserved pressure of expectation on the team might ruin what could actually be a good tournament for England.
Despite the best efforts of the ITV commentary team to build this England side up as the second coming of the Brazil 1970 team, anyone who watched the two friendlies against Turkey and Australia and decided to bet on England winning the Euros deserves to lose their money. Maybe I was being generous describing it as ‘watched’ those friendlies, perhaps endured would have been a more fitting description because, even by International friendly standard, they were dire.
Over the past decade, Roy Hodgson has morphed from respected coach into a comedic figure, whose coaching principles and philosophy are now seen as archaic. His mannerisms and facial expressions have become a figure of fun, whilst watching his teams play are anything but that. The fact it took an offside Harry Kane goal and a bizarre own goal from the Turkish goalkeeper, that was somehow credited to Jamie Vardy, to overcome a very poor Turkey side should have been a warning sign. Instead, the struggle was ignored and the defence that collaborated to gift Turkey their goal was lauded.
England’s best bet is on their attack. In Harry Kane, England do have an in-form striker who has a knack of being in the right place at the right time and gets goals. If fit, Daniel Sturridge offers another top quality finisher with the technique and movement to match, though his fitness when under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson remains a concern. Jamie Vardy has had a great season with Leicester and deserves his place in the squad and should be a very good option from the bench.
The emergence of Marcus Rashford has seen him fast-tracked to the main squad. Rooney is a conundrum, although he took his goal against Australia well, he’s unlikely to be afforded 20-30 yards of space on the edge of the box this summer. His domestic form hasn’t warranted his place in the England team, but his goalscoring record in friendlies and qualifiers arguably does; his tournament record is poor though and England will need to him to finally deliver on the big stage if he is going to play in that deeper role.
Getting out of the group is far from a formality, Russia are unpredictable and Wales will be incredibly motivated; the prospect of Gareth Bale running at the England defence could cause Hodgson to have sleepless nights. The England squad contains some very good players and some very average ones, with a manager who is, at best, average.
Another Quarter final exit looks to be on the cards.