Sports writer Joe Liddicot analyses England’s chances of winning the Euros after their victory against a strong German side.
Unbridled collective euphoria, such as what followed England’s 2-0 victory over Germany on Tuesday in the Euros, inevitably leads to brash predictions and inflated expectations among the English faithful.
The Three Lions’ performance was undoubtedly impressive, comfortably their best of the tournament, though fans should avoid complacency. Anything can happen – and lots of things have happened – in knockout football.
Before kick-off, the line-up raised eyebrows, with Southgate reverting back to the five-at-the-back formation utilised throughout the World Cup in 2018 despite the abundance of creative attacking talent in this squad. Grealish, Foden, Sancho and Mount were left idle on the bench, itching to create opportunities and animate the initially cagey affair.
Notwithstanding the first fifteen minutes, England were the better team in the first half despite the ostensible lack of an inventive spirit in the middle of the field. The defence held firm to maintain the clean sheet, and Kane’s scuppered chance on the brink of half time indicated that England were growing in confidence and belief.
Both of England’s two goals came after Jack Grealish, perhaps the most talented of England’s ‘creative’ cohort, entered the fray. Coincidence? Surely not. He was directly involved in both goals, even assisting Kane’s 86th minute header with a deft cross lifted temptingly into the striker’s path to send England cruising jubilantly into the quarter finals of the Euros.
It is to those quarter finals that our attentions now turn, though with many England fans already chalking up a win against underdogs Ukraine, it would be easy to presume that Saturday’s game will be a straightforward one for those in White. Besides Zinchenko and Yarmolenko, there aren’t many names in the Ukraine squad that are familiar to supporters of the English game, but this is no reason for complacency. Despite being irrefutable favourites, England must perform professionally and assert their superiority from the beginning to avoid realising the same fate as France and the Netherlands, that being the nation on the wrong side of an upset.
With this in mind, Southgate must unleash the wealth of attacking talent he has at his disposal, ditching the five-at-the-back formation and reverting back to the 4-2-3-1 system preferred in the group stages. This facilitates the proper usage of our young playmakers who will surely overwhelm Ukraine’s defence with their dynamism and talent; so long as they are not made to play within themselves. This was an issue that arose in the group stage, especially in the draw against Scotland where England were passive, safe and uninspiring. We must play like the favourites that we are. Allowing Ukraine a foothold in the game risks nurturing their self-confidence and enabling Zinchenko or Yarmolenko to showcase their ability. They are a team that can easily harm England if given the opportunity. The English must play on the front foot and control the game with assured composure, getting the job done before turning their attention to the semi-finals of the Euros and beyond.
Should England be victorious in Rome on Saturday evening then they will face either the Czech Republic or Denmark. A path to the final that some have dubbed the easiest ever, positing that England will never have a better chance to win a European Championship. This situation is thanks in part to Czech Republic’s shock victory over the Netherlands in the Round of 16, albeit a depleted Dutch side after Matthias De Ligt was sent off for a handball in the 55th minute.
Despite fans’ outright optimism, neither of these two teams present easy opponents, especially the Danes. Their tough start to the tournament has only stoked their fire, and they now look like formidable opposition for any side hoping to reach the final. They have quality throughout the pitch, with several players who are highly respected by clubs across Europe, including Martin Braithwaite, formerly of Middlesbrough but now FC Barcelona’s number 9. Hojberg, Schmeichel and Christensen are distinguished Premier League performers, and will no doubt be looking to upset their club teammates in front of their home crowd.
Denmark had no trouble against Wales in the Round of 16, disposing of them classily in a 0-4 win in Amsterdam. They are the team that offer the biggest challenge to the English on their road to the final. A Wembley duel against the former winners would be an intense and nervy affair for everyone involved, thus English fans should suppress their complacency, focussing instead on supporting the players without getting carried away and placing unnecessary pressure and expectation on this young squad.
The Czechs propose a less concerning threat for England, having already beaten them 1-0 earlier in the tournament. Though once again complacency should be avoided at all costs. Anything can happen in knockout football, as the Czechs proved in the Round of 16. Admittedly England would once again be the favourites in this potential Wembley clash, with their attacking prowess appearing too much for their opponent on paper. Though sceptics will remind you that football isn’t played on paper.
For now, cautious optimism is the order of the day, there is a real chance that England will make noise in this tournament. However, we should let the players make the noise, not the fans. Excessively lofty fan expectation hasn’t been conducive to success for England teams in the past.
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