It’s not all doom and gloom, says Dave Tindall, as England prepare for their last-16 encounter with Iceland at Euro 2016.
Made it through the group unbeaten
Okay, it was hard to mess this up given that 16 of the 24 teams qualified for the final 16. But if we judge this against the horror of the 2014 World Cup when England went out having finished bottom of the group with a single point, it’s progress. What’s more, England are unbeaten and have been the dominant force in every game so far (v Russia, Wales and Slovakia).
By contrast, other big nations have already suffered defeat – Spain having their pants pulled down by Croatia and Italy having their noses bloodied by the Republic of Ireland. Losing dents confidence and gives hope to others that the established elite can be beaten.
Play minnows next
Had Iceland not scored that commentator-screaming winner against Austria, England would have been playing Portugal in the last 16. Yes, that’s Portugal who beat England 1-0 in the 1986 World Cup, 3-2 in the 2000 Euros (after coming from 2-0 down) and on penalties in both the 2004 Euros and 2006 World Cup.
Portugal have the Indian sign over England in major tournaments and you know fine well that Cristiano Ronaldo would have come up with something special to dump us out again this time. And probably been caught winking in the process. So thankyou Iceland for your late winner. We’ve avoided our bogey team.
No dominant teams
The perceived downside of England failing to top the group is that we’re now on the wrong side of the draw. The half that contains Spain, Italy, Germany and France. But, has anyone actually watched any of those teams and thought, “wow, these are good”?
By playing each other, one of Italy and Spain will be gone before the last eight stage and it’s worth remembering that Slovakia beat Germany 3-1 (on German soil no less!) in a recent friendly. England’s likely quarter-final opponents France have looked far from convincing so the names look tough on paper but less so in reality.
Improved style of play
The usual stick to beat England with in international tournaments is that we can’t keep hold of the ball. Well, head to the Opta stats and you’ll notice that Roy Hodgson’s men are fourth in the Possession stats with 60.47%. Only Germany, Spain (surprise, surprise) and Portugal are above us.
Also, England have made 1,315 successful passes so far and that ranks them 5th of the 24 teams. England are also 5th in the table for Passing Accuracy in the final third with 75.39%. They’re also 1st in Dribbles Completed with 59 and 2nd for Total Shots with 64. One final stat worth noting: England have the youngest average starting XI so far (26 years, 59 days). As the tournament goes on, the extra freshness of youth may come into its own.
One major complaint so far is that England have failed to put away teams who have come to defend. Russia managed to keep us down to a single goal, Slovakia set out their stall and managed a 0-0 and Wales also got numbers behind the ball before Daniel Sturridge picked the lock. Iceland will do the same.
But, what about after that? If, as expected, England go through to play France in the last eight, the onus will be on the hosts to make the running. Then we get to see England playing on the counter-attack and it’s fairly easy to believe that this will suit them much more. “Jamie Vardy getting in behind” will become a much-used catchphrase. And it would be similar against Spain or Germany if we played them in the last four. England’s best weapon, the counter-attack, may still be under wraps. Let’s hope we get the chance to unleash it.