I think England is a good side, but it's getting them to play the way they should to win games thoroughly. Glen Johnson is known more for his attacking than his defending; John Terry has a good footballing brain to get into places although his lack of pace can be exposed; Joeleon Lescott is a decent covering CB; Ashley Cole provides a stern performance practically every game for club and country; Scott Parker is a decent DCM although his coming forward and passing lacked something last night; Steven Gerrard did well as captain and in helping out but as the game went on, his fitness was tested (a polite way of saying he was knackered);
James Milner and Ashley Young both lacked throughout the tournament, hardly any runs down the wings and any providing for the forwards to get on to; Welbeck got praise for his winning goal against the Swedes (which I think was not intentional) and provided little else after; Wayne Rooney should have not been in the Ukraine nor Italy game but brought on as a sub, which would have kept him hungry on the bench and more eager to get out there and make a difference, more than he did against the Ukrainians).
Let's not forget we didn't lose last night in the 120mins, we lost it on the two penalties we didn't convert. From when Riccardo Montolivo missed, we had to score all our penalties, it was that straightforward. Aim hard, aim low, and even do what Andrea Pirlo did, which was to aim down the middle since the keeper suspects just left or right. What a cool yet chilling finish by Pirlo, which I think was to show he was nowhere finished yet, AC Milan.
We did well against the French but we held back and let them come at us; we did the same with the Swedes, we scored and then allowed them to come at us, gave them two goals and were lucky to get two back to win. We were 2nd best to the Ukrainians, they wanted it more, had more of the ball and failed to convert their chances. We were fortunate twice in there being two deflections and a fumbling by Andriy Pyatov for our goal, and that the effort by Marko Devic was judged not completely over the line.
Sunday night, it was the same again. We were 2nd best, 2nd to the ball, we allowed the Italians to come at us and see if they could break through, and, like the Ukraine game, the Italians did, only for their final effort to fail. The amount of times they had gotten through, particularly Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, it was just waiting for the inevitable goal. We couldn't just sit back the whole time, and when we went forward with promise, our cohesion in the end just ran out and broke up. If we should have scored, the Italians should have score double. They deserved the win.
What it is with England is we do not either have any flair players or encourage them. Flair players can take on opponents practically every game, the whole game, they thrive on a one-man creativity that is determined, focused and even artistic. At half time, the BBC looked on Pirlo and showed when he had time on the ball and how he played it each time. Shearer also mentioned that either Rooney or Danny Welbeck should drop back and track Pirlo to prevent this, which I think Rooney did now and then, and it worked. Only thing was it ceased when the 2nd half started.
As for Andy Carroll, I felt Carroll did well enough to try to open up something for England. Being almost 7ft, his running isn't going to be a major asset, his height should be. He laid off the ball when he could and tried to get into the game, but the game just called for pace upfront, someone who will get at the defence and push it. Someone like Jermaine Defoe. For me, get the ball to Defoe or play him through and he'll have the pace and the annoyance of shooting at goal from any angle, with either foot and more times than not he is successful. Lord knows we had no pace showing on the wings until Theo Walcott took over from Milner, while Young had been an absolute shadow of himself throughout.
We had Welbeck and Rooney upfront. One has ingenuity as an asset, the other has pace, but neither trait was functioning like it has done last night. Rooney hadn't been himself since coming into the Ukraine game, and that's another thing. It was as if his name was already written to start, when he should have started on the bench, easier to say in hindsight. I wonder if Rooney had actually shown anything of worth in training to be selected.
Cole can attack well, so can Johnson. We have good defenders, we have old-school central midfielders, experienced players, and we have decent wingers with good forwards. It's about getting them to play with flair, confidence, determination and execution. Right now we have some confidence and determination and little execution. What the Germans have is definite execution, they have cohesion from back to front and they are hungry for the goal. The Spaniards have flair from almost every player, confidence and good execution from almost every player, and that's from the starting 11 to those who come on later. Pedro Rodriguez came on against the French and almost set up Torres, almost scored himself. They start without a forward, so who is scoring the goals? Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavier 'Xavi' Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, even Sergio Busquets, all midfielders. No Fernando Torres, no Fernando Llorente, and they're also without David Villa.
The Portuguese and the Italians will no doubt be the underdogs in their respective games. Other than Christiano Ronaldo so far, Bruno Alves has been tight at the back, Fabio Coentrao has been better coming forward while doing well in defence along with Pepe, Miguel Veloso has come forward well, so too has Joao Pereira. Italy's best players were Pirlo, Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli linked well with Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Balzaretti threatened well, and then there was Balotelli and Cassano. If the last two combine better and have their shooting boots on, then they will put out the Germans. Then you look at the Germans - Mesut Ozil will create something, Philip Lahm likes to come forward, the crosses have to be made for the likes of Mario Gomez and even Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, even Thomas Mueller, and against the Greeks they even changed up to introduce Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, the latter who asks no invitation to shoot on goal.
The Italians have Pirlo, we have Gerrard. Gerrard can ping a pass from yards or from one side to the other, but he wasn't doing that much in the tournament. When he did, Lescott and Carroll scored from them. But then, why should he? When the wingers to whom he would have picked out, even the forwards, were just not making enough movements to warrant such passes. So we don't have enough flair going forward, we hold onto the ball and pass it around, hardly anyone looking to suddenly snap onto the ball and take it forward to the opposition. So we adopted more of a defensive stance......playing for penalties?! I don't think so but the play was such that we were booed on the ball in the first half.
We need an injection of pace on the wings, upfront, even in defence. Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, hardly a striker could out-pace them, much less out-muscle them, while Ferdinand and Terry provided pace and a good football brain at the back. Pacey players usually aim to use that trait to beat off opponents towards goal. The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, even Defoe, may well fit in as regular starters. Gerrard could be tiring, who could come in that position with pace? Jordan Henderson?!! Young has to improve drastically on his Euro2012 role, while for me Milner is now no longer an option for the starting 11.
However, you can have the players on the day or night, but it takes one more goal than the opponents to beat them, and anyone at any time, anyhow can score. It's the controlling of the play that is fundamental over a match. Do our players want to control a game, or not? That's the question, and I think Roy Hodgson has provided a test, a little change, a glimpse into wanting to add something different to the squad. Disappointing as Sunday night was, it wasn't lost on open play, and that's promising.