THE England versus Scotland game ended goalless, a spirited performance from the Scots and a leaden-legged, tired-looking 90 minutes from England. It wasn’t a great game, but for the Scots it was job done.
The game showed how players’ fortunes can change dramatically in a short space of time. The talismanic Harry Kane was the subject of great debate afterwards, with the press and fans questioning his right to a place in the team for England’s last group game against Czechia. Kane, before the competition, was one of the reasons people were so optimistic about the “three lions”, but he’s a player who has had his injury problems, has his eye on a move next season and he’s probably a little jaded. How often has a major tournament been blighted by injuries and fitness concerns to key players? Unfortunately, it is quite frequent, and it is not unexpected as these events come after a hard season, and in the case of Euro 2020, one that has seen constant fixtures, barely an empty midweek and obvious motivational issues. For Kane, his club has underperformed, is currently managerless and at 27, he’s still waiting for a major prize.
England have not set the world alight in their two group games, indeed their matches have been pedestrian and characterised by a lack of invention and firepower. England have scored three goals in their last four internationals and the teams they have beaten by more than a one goal margin in the past couple of years include Iceland, San Marino, Kosovo and Montenegro. England, despite the hype and posturing, don’t really excite.
It’s not the first time that England have looked jaded at the start of a World Cup or European Championship, but they have home advantage and they are ranked among the favourites. For all Gareth Southgate’s pragmatism, “nice guy persona” and lack of histrionics, he still looks like a manager in a caretaker’s job. He’s done it pretty well up until now, taking a workmanlike side to the last four of the World Cup, and in some respects, he has recovered a lot of the respect England lost during the “golden generation” era and its aftermath. His England team is a modest one in terms of attitude and behaviour, but equally, it is a fairly limited one in ability. Very few people want to say it and those that suggest it are pilloried or accused of treason, but England (the kings of friendlies and qualifiers) are really not in the same class as Portugal, Belgium or the current Italy team.
That said, they have enough to get through the group stage and maybe even as far as the last eight, but hasn’t that always been the case? They have four points, another one against Czechia will secure their place and they may not even need that. But if the first two games have told us anything, it is that England are probably lacking in key positions, but they wouldn’t be the first imperfect champions.
The competition as a whole has been slow to ignite and lacks the “carnival” element of past Euros. This was inevitable given the pandemic, but the format is also flawed. In 2016, the first 24-teamer, it was noticeable that many fans loved the event but hinted there were too many average sides because the finals had been extended beyond the optimal 16-team structure. Quantity over quality. Without the the international jambouree element, you’re relying on the football and football alone to leave an impression.
England may have home advantage (and they rarely lose at Wembley), but so too have Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Hungary. That may not count for much with some nations, but it does mean that for every country with home advantage, there are plenty at a disadvantage. The cynics might say that with covid-19 bubbling away, the competition could also be a wave-maker. Equally, if the Olympics are so contentious, why wasn’t Euro 2020?
This is why the event seems subdued, although the news footage suggests those that have managed to go to the games are clearly enjoying themselves, even if they are jeapordising their health. We’re certainly not seeing the same type of lager throwing, flag-waving antics we experienced in the last World Cup. The Christian Eriksen incident, understandably, has cast something of a shadow over Euro 2020, but once the group stage is out of the way, we may see some riveting stuff that could include England.