Yesterday was a good day despite the blast furnace heat here in Chicago as England proved me totally wrong by advancing to the Euro2012 Quarter Finals with a shaky 1-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine. This win sets up a mouth watering confrontation against Italy on Sunday in Kiev but frankly, this was a win that England hardly deserved as Ukraine had the majority of the possession while England reverted back to a defensive posture in front of a highly partisan crowd. Were it not for a fortunate mistake by the Hungarian line judge, the outcome might have been different as the official clearly failed to rule Ukraine’s Marko Devic’s shot a goal as John Terry hooked it out of the net. Fortunate to say the least and in the eyes of England fans, probably payback for Lampard’s non-goal against Germany in South Africa two summers ago.
England now move on to play Italy and must fancy their chances as this Azzurri team is eminently beatable for once. They haven’t shown much flair either in this competition and the contest threatens to be a complete bore but an early goal should spice things up. England will have to now push out of their shell and try to create more movement as the knockout stage is very unforgiving for teams that do not venture forward. Rooney looked off color last night and all the saber rattling about him leading the charge in his return proved to be just that despite his winning goal. I think he’s less of a player than he was 2-3 years ago and consistently loses possession in key areas. He does have a flair for goals but I would rather pair him with Carroll against Italy rather than Welbeck.
England winning the Group following another French catastrophe against Sweden gives them an extra day’s rest which is so valuable at this time of the tournament and Hodgson will certainly be looking to improve some of England’s possession play in that time. We have become very slow and labored in our build ups which I know, is a result of the defensive, cautious style we play, but at some point you have to be able to kick it up a gear to stretch the opposition across the field. If you can’t do that, you become very predictable and the opposition become more adventurous and confident as a result.
I think the Milner duties are done for this tournament as he has proved again that he provides nothing more than huff and puff on a team that badly needs some pace and creativity. Hodgson simply cannot play him and Parker in the same line-up anymore, as Gerrard needs more help when going forward. England’s captain had one of his best games in an England shirt last night and for me, is one of the players of the tournament. His vision and passing have been exemplary and it’s clear that he doesn’t miss Lampard or Barry. Walcott, if fit, and Oxlade-Chamberlain make much better midfield partners for him.
All in all, it’s been a rewarding tournament so far with more to come from England. Italy will be tough but beatable and a semi final place for this team will be a huge accomplishment for Hodgson and his players.
Fabio who ?