Euro 2012 Day 4: England v France, The Ox And Sheva
It was not a high-quality game and both teams will be happy with a point. Neither England nor France wanted to get off to a losing start and that fear combined with the oppressive heat made for a cagey performance from both sides. For all their possession and shots attempted, the French looked wary of over committing players forward. England had a few good counter attacking opportunities but generally stayed behind the ball.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain started the game and produced a couple of delightful moments, once when he turned and ran at the French defense in the first half and another occasion in the second when he got to the edge of the box but couldn’t get a shot away. I feel disappointed for him though. He was obviously instructed not be overly ambitious and for an immensely talented 19-year old making his first competitive start for his country, it must be frustrating to be told to curb your natural enthusiasm.
The youngster showed good maturity in his post match comments. When asked how he rated his performance, he was honest in his assessment and said it was okay. He would’ve preferred to have been more involved on the ball but admitted that the team is more important and he’s willing to play the way the manager wants him to.
It’s a good attitude and will help him to learn and improve quickly. Although it’s difficult to see what exactly the Ox will learn in this system. The 4-4-2 England are playing is not a tactical masterstroke like Italy’s 3-5-2 where players are required to perform different functions during different play actions, with and without the ball. England’s 4-4-2 is just a very basic tactic of putting as many bodies as possible in between the attacking player and your goalkeeper.
Even as a counter-attacking strategy, it’s difficult to understand its effectiveness. Russia beat the Czechs with a counter-attacking strategy but they played a 4-3-3 and were much more proactive in trying to win the ball back and move up the pitch. England’s front two were increasingly isolated yesterday because the midfield sat too deep, which meant there were only hopeful long balls down the pitch instead of a team effort to get at the other end.
Another concern is that when you allow the opposition to shoot 21 times in a game, you open yourself up to the possibility of getting beaten by just one moment of brilliance or one wicked deflection or one mistake by a player. This is exactly what happened with Nasri’s goal. Eventually, players at this level will find the net if you keep allowing them chances to shoot.
For the time being though, it looks like England will continue with this formation and try to grind out results. Maybe when Wayne Rooney returns we might see more of attacking intent from the Three Lions.
Laurent Koscielny did not get a start for France, which was a little surprising in my opinion. Neither Mexes nor Rami looked totally assured yesterday and Koscielny would have provided more solidity. But it’s unlikely Blanc will change the back line now so unless there’s an injury or a very average performance by one of those two defenders, Laurent is unlikely to be used by France.
The French need to improve too. Their interplay was too slow at times and they were not penetrative enough. Ribery got into good positions but his finishing or final ball was not good enough. The defense did not look very comfortable although Debuchy at right back had a very good game overall. Le Blues need to move the ball quicker and have more support from midfield and the full backs to pose more problems for opponents.
In the other match, Ukraine defeated Sweden 2-1. Ibrahimovic scored Sweden’s first but two fantastic headers from Shevchenko saw the home team storm back and take 3 points.
While both goals were made by Sheva’s intuitive runs and fantastic ability, I was impressed by the attacking intent of Ukraine. Veterans Tymoschuk and Nazarenko were influential in the central areas while full-back Gusev was constantly overlapping with Yarmolenko on the right and Konoplyanka used the width of the pitch well down the left. Admittedly, their final ball wasn’t always the best and Sweden were quite poor but based on yesterday’s performance, Ukraine may produce a shock against England or France or both.
Today sees the start of the second round of matches. Szczesny is missing Poland’s match against Arshavin’s Russia whereas Rosicky will be his team’s main man against Greece. Unfortunately, Rosicky lacks quality around him and it’s entirely possible that Greece can end the Czech Republic’s tournament hopes today. Russia should have enough to edge past Poland – although an early goal for the home team would give us a better idea of just how good the Russians are.