So what if England finished second in Group B? Derek Bilton explains why England’s performances deserve plenty of praise and why few will relish facing the Three Lions in France.
So what exactly is Hodgson’s game? A manager with a reputation as being stoic, steady and unadventurous is currently trying to break down English fans’ walls without them even knowing. And rebuild them with huge bay windows which allows the summer sunshine to pour in.
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Steady Roy has had to make way for ‘Amarillo’ Roy, a maverick, some would say reckless gambler convinced a hot streak is just around the corner in France. Like many I was stunned when I heard the news that Hodgson was set to make six changes to the side that beat Wales 2-1 last Thursday, including skipper Wayne Rooney. Fair enough if we had already won the group but he made these changes despite there being a very real chance that if things went pear-shaped, England could finish as low as third in Group B, and any route to the final would be far more complicated as a result. However he rolled the dice in Saint-Etienne and while England failed to hit jackpot on the night there was, and is, something rather refreshing about Hodgson’s devil-may-care attitude.
On another night England might have battered Slovakia 4-0. Always comfortable at the back and forever asking questions offensively, they huffed and puffed but were denied by some resolute defending and the thing any gambler covets above all else when the stakes are high, a bit of luck. Hodgson will catch a bit of stick from the press for his selections on Monday night but from my vantage point there was not too much wrong with the performance, merely a result which allowed Wales to top Group B. England are through to the last 16 however, and on this evidence few teams will fancy rolling in the long grass with the Three Lions.
Football is the national sport. The richest sport and the sport that dominates the landscape in England. It dominates TV, newspaper and online coverage and does so by popular demand. Young and old alike want to rush home from school or work when tournaments like this come around and be entertained. And whether it’s by fluke or design England’s fans are being entertained in France. The team played well against Russia but were undone by a late sucker punch in drawing 1-1. Against Wales it was do-or-die and Hodgson rolled the dice when 1-0 down and nailed it as substitute Daniel Sturridge popped up in injury-time to claim a priceless three points for the Three Lions. In that match Rooney, Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and the aforementioned Sturridge were all on the pitch at the final whistle and for the last half an hour England’s midfield consisted of, well, Eric Dier. And in the final group match Hodgson’s men have done everything but score and dominated a Slovakia side who are far from pushovers.
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There will be sterner tests ahead of course but for now I’m happy to stick my neck out and lavish praise on Hodgson, a boss who I personally felt should have fallen on his sword after that lamentable World Cup campaign in Brazil two years ago. He’s being bold and asking his team to give it a lash. Just a few short weeks ago the man was pilloried by certain sections of the media over his squad selection, with former England captain Alan Shearer voicing his concern that Hodgson had gone for “reputation rather than form”, mostly notably regarding Jack Wilshere’s inclusion ahead of Danny Drinkwater.
The same critics may well be clearing their throats again but let us hope we don’t hear their well rehearsed laments for a while yet. Because for the first time in a long time in a major finals England have some tournament impetus. I was out there last week as a fan and the song that reverberated longest and loudest around Marseille, Nice, Paris and Lens was ‘Don’t take me home’. And what started as a good natured chant has now become a direct plea to the team and the manager. Nobody back in Blighty wants this adventure to end. Keep listening ‘Amarillo’ Roy. Keep listening.
What were your thoughts on the game? What must England do differently in the last 16 if they are to make further progress in France?