With a draw against France secured, England's players proved they have bought into Hodgson's philosophy. However the Three Lions must possess a plan B to advance from the group stages.
England have overcome their first hurdle of Euro 2012 by claiming a draw against a much-fancied French side, and in doing so gaining the support of the English public.
The Three Lions have shown they are willing to put their egos to one side, and replace the confusion and chaos of Fabio Capello’s ill-fated World Cup 2010 debacle with the organised and determined approach that Roy Hodgson is implementing at Euro 2012. Perhaps not easy on the eye – and as far removed from Spain’s tiki-taka as you will see in Poland and Ukraine – England are now a team with a focus, and in Hodgson have a man with a plan in charge.
But whilst this England outfit deserve praise for the way they took on their French opponents – leading the match before resolutely defending a point – question marks remain over the team’s plan B which will be essential to escaping a rather under-estimated Group D.
Hodgson’s team have earned their first point of the championship, but are likely to need four from their next two encounters against Sweden and Ukraine to make their way into the quarter-finals of the competition.
The Three Lions have shown they are willing to put their egos to one side, and replace the confusion and chaos of Fabio Capello’s ill-fated World Cup 2010 debacle with the organised and determined approach that Roy Hodgson is implementing at Euro 2012
In order to progress – which requires at least one victory – England must conjure up a plan B to supplement their now natural policy of counter-attacking and containment utilised effectively under the former West Brom manager against France.
This secondary policy needs the side to unleash pace, and attack down the wings to put pressure on their upcoming opponents. The national team will be expected to dictate the play against the so-called lesser sides in group D, and Hodgson will be well aware that his side cannot repeat their negative outlook shown yesterday in their next two games against Sweden and Ukraine.
Key to this school of thought is Arsenal’s Theo Walcott. The winger is hotly-debated amongst fans of his club and country – some thinking him to be a dangerous weapon in attack, and other considering the 23-year-old just another speed merchant without any end product. However, what England lacked in Donetsk against the French was a viable outlet on the flanks. Both James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performed admirably, but it seems evident that the Ox is a better prospect from the bench – considering the weight of expectation on his shoulders to become the next Rooney, Owen or Gazza – and Milner is a midfielder strategically placed to help cover the more creative players around him.
This season Chelsea have shown that you do not need to be the best side – or possess the most talented players – to win tournaments. Unlike league competitions, tournanent football is about taking your chances, defending well and capitalising on momentum. This England side has enough in its locker to do well at Euro 2012, and although it is far to early to discuss the possibility of the Three Lions winning the trophy, it is plausible to suggest that Hodgson & co. can ruffle a few feathers in Eastern Europe this summer.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performed admirably, considering the weight of expectation on his shoulders to become the next Rooney, Owen or Gazza
England may lack a Didier Drogba figure, but in Walcott they hold a card that is not disimilar to Ramires – the man most Chelsea fans thank for the Blues remarkable progression to the European showpiece event in Munich in May.
If Walcott is deployed in tandem with a more defense-minded winger – such as Milner – then the Arsenal man’s acceleration could be just what England need to break down Sweden and Ukraine. His final ball may be questionable, but Robin van Persie does not consider the former Southampton prodigy a key factor in his 37 goals for the North London side this campaign for nothing.
Tonight, Hodgson’s formation proved a tough nut for a French side packed with flair to crack, but to progress to the knock-out stages England simply must offer more in attack. And for all Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hype, he performed well against the Euro 2000 winners without ever threatening keeper Hugo Lloris.
Martin Olsson is the left-back Theo Walcott would be set to face on Friday night in Kiev against Sweden if he is selected by Hodgson, and the capital-born forward will have fond memories of this particular opponent, having given Olsson a torrid time as Blackburn were thrashed 7-1 by a rampant Arsenal side back in February.
Walcott gave Olsson a torrid time as Blackburn were thrashed 7-1 by a rampant Arsenal side back in February this year
Walcott is perhaps not everyone’s ideal starter for England, but in the next two games Hodgson’s side cannot afford to sit back and allow Sweden or Ukraine to control their encounters. The Arsenal man’s energy and acceleration offers the perfect opportunity for England to build on their promising link-up play against the French, and score some goals in Group D to not only see them make the business end of the competition but progress to the knock-out phases with a sense of increased belief.
This new-look England side may be Euro 2012 underdogs – and that is something that the watching public should not disregard but relish – and with a sharper attacking threat in their armory with Walcott starting, Hodgson’s side could make the last eight of this tournament and potentially go even further.
But for now Croydon’s king should feel satisfied with his team’s performance against France, and turn his attention towards England’s last two group games with earned optimism.
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