Well, well, well…that was…unexpected. As an Englishman in his presence 30s, I’ve become accustomed to watching the national team sh*t the proverbial bed time and time again. The England national football team haven’t been to a major international final since 1966 after all, so just getting to semi finals has always felt like a bit of a slog.
Yet yesterday I witnessed – certainly for the first time in as long as I can remember – a performance from an England team which will have made everyone sit up and take notice.
Not only that, but they put in a performance which we’ve seen from the other big nations year after year, competition after competition. The 4-0 victory over an admittedly poor Ukrainian team was the most controlled football match I’ve seen in a knockout competition for England. It was methodical, patient, probing and when needed, deadly. Very, VERY, un-England like. If you’d have turned the TV black and white and blurred the faces, you’d have thought it was the Italians, or the Germans, in a white kit, who were overseeing yet another win on the way to yet another semi final.
We don’t normally get treated to performances like that as English people. What we get is nervy, tense encounters, with mistakes and silly errors. Maybe a penalty scored or conceded, or life being made hard in some manner, yet we never really saw any of that and instead witnessed a possession-based England build up carefully and composed, then when openings were available they struck. The early goal inside five minutes helped but in truth England were never really tested and could see out the game as comfortable winners by the end.
I was telling the assembled family members that I was with that this was tournament football. It is rarely the end-to-end basketball stuff. You do get that sometimes but the teams that eventually win these competitions play possession based football, slower build up, control games and unpick the lock when the moment is right. That’s what this England team seem to have learned this competition: how to play international tournament football.
Can they go on and do it all the way? Not sure. The Danes made it through by beating Czech Republic in a tense affair and they will be the toughest opponent England has faced so far by some distance. They are spurred on by the pain and suffering of losing Erikson so horribly from their squad in the first game and that has helped to play a little part in their success to get to the semi finals, but they are also in themselves a good team with some dangerous players. They will at least be able to lay a glove on England next Wednesday, you’d expect, so it won’t be as comfortable as it was against the Ukrainians.
I cannot see England going this whole tournament without conceding either. It’s been brilliant so far but feels crazy to even imagine it given how so many people were talking about the defence being the biggest problem. They have turned into the bedrock; the foundation that this campaign has been built on, but they will be tested much more than ever before in the net game and, if we’re lucky, the game after that.
England haven’t been behind yet, either, so we are yet to see how this England team will react to going a goal behind, or even conceding an equaliser. That is when we will find out if this side are as good as some are suggesting. Perhaps they are. But until we go through that moment and come out the other side of the discomfort, we won’t know whether this generation of players really are able to finally wash away the pains of so many years of disappointment.
Props should also be given to Southgate. He’s overseeing this current run of dominance and he’s now got England to two consecutive semi finals. That’s nothing to be sniffed at and whilst I don’t think he’s tactically or strategically the best manager out there, there’s no doubt he’s been able to get a tune out of these players. He is oozing calm at the moment and that is just what we as a nation have always needed. Let’s see if he can do it for two more games. There’s a legacy and legendary status to be had if he does.
In terms of Arsenal news today, well, there isn’t really that much to be honest. There’s talks on the Guendouzi to Marseille deal being done and we’re supposedly getting £10million for him. Given the problems he’s caused, the attitude, the fact he didn’t really set the Bundesliga alight and we’ll have made profit on him, I’d say we’ll take that loan option with an obligation to buy next season. Suits us fine and we can all move on with our lives. The other stuff is that Ødegaard put a message saying thanks to Arsenal and the fans for having him, essentially confirming what we already knew and that he’s going back to Real Madrid. It means getting that ESR deal sorted and then getting another creative playmaker in needs to be one of the top priorities, but it has always been the case and I think we all knew Odegaard would probably be remaining at Real Madrid next season anyway. Good luck to him.
Nothing else really to report. Martinelli is off to the Olympics and that will impact the first couple of games, but I doubt he’d have been a starter anyway, so it’s not a massive problem for us. Just hope he and Gabriel come back without injury.
And on that note I’ll say I’m done for today. You have yourselves and merry little Sunday and I’ll be back with you tomorrow.