National team football

England can “ugly” their way through….until they reach the Germans

Cometh the man, cometh the hour, as they say, and Wayne Rooney proved to be “johnny on the spot” just at the right time. England have, against the odds, “ponced” their way through to the quarter finals of 2012 and they could even go a stage further.

If the three England games proved anything, it was that Sweden, France and Ukraine are not very good either. England, to their credit, improved game-by-game but the others failed to rise to the occasion. Ukraine were very average, as evidenced by the tame goal scored by Rooney – despite the presence of the entire Ukraine defence. England didn’t need to be that good to win, even though they have to thank John Terry’s acrobatics and the continued absence of proper technology to determine suspect “goals”. How football at this very high level can continue to ignore the use of goal-line technology is beyond me – especially given the seemingly bottomless pit of money in the game.

Forgetting that, England are in the last eight on merit and who would have predicted that? But how far can they go? To quote a tip-lipped and defiant Steven Gerrard, “we’ll see”.

We won’t have to wait long, because the Italy game is only a few days away. The last eight is the usual jumping-off point for England sides in any competition, so if they lose, it won’t be a surprise, especially as it is Italy.

Just looking at the other quarter-finals, it could be a bloodbath when Greece meet Germany. The Greeks will be out to kick Angela Merkel’s representatives given the anti-German feeling brewing in Athens. Apparently, German tourists are shying away from Greece these days for fear of their safety. Already the wisecracks are circulating that Merkel will tell the Greeks how many goals they must concede in the game and the economic climate will only fuel what will surely be a tense game. Expect cards – both red and yellow – to flow….and Germany to come through scathed. The Portuguese have gained momentum since the first game and should have enough to beat the Czechs. That will probably set them up with Iberian rivals Spain, who will surely have little trouble beating a disappointing French side.

Spain’s only question mark is about their forwards, or lack of them. But when you have the most fluid and dynamic midfield, you don’t need many forwards. Just think back to the great Dutch team of 1974. Nobody really remembers the likes of Johnny Rep, but we all recall – with great affection –  the likes of Neeskens, Cruyff, Van Hanegem and Rensenbrink. For Rep, read Torres. Spain pass their opponents to death and they should do the same to France.

So if England get through, they will almost certainly come up against Germany and that will be that.  Why? Well, although the defence looks good enough, Rooney’s not fully fit, Carroll lacks the finesse to make an impact against a team like Germany and Wellbeck won’t be able to repeat his “trick” shot. Gerrard has been England’s man of the tournament so far, but even he will find he’s off the pace of the energetic Germans. As for Scott Parker – he of the matinee idol looks and smart haircut – he will continue to run around, get tripped up here and there and receive the odd ball in the face. Don’t complain, it’s worked well so far. But you need more than “ugly” teams to win a tournament like the European Championship. That’s why it’s set to be Spain v Germany on July 1.

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