Another tournament, another quarter final exit for England. Beforehand, most fans and pundits agreed that this would represent a successful tournament. Having seen how wide the gulf in class was last night, surviving to a penalty shoot out was a miraculous achievement!
In the last two tournaments that England have played, in 2006 & 2010, you could argue that England were somewhat unlucky to be eliminated. There was Ronaldhino’s cross come shot that left David Seaman stranded and Frank Lampard’s goal that was never given in South Africa.
However last night, if England had of somehow won the penalty shoot out, it would have been the biggest injustice in the history of football. Apart from a brief 15-20 minute period in the first half, England were second best by a long way.
One small consolation for England, was simply how well they defended. I honestly don’t think that any other defence in the tournament would have been able to withstand the continuous threat that was thrown their way. Terry and Lescott were immense and Joe Hart was always in the right place when called upon.
Going forward was another story. Italy had 36 goal attempts to England’s 9 (of which only 1 was on target). The Italians also had a staggering 68% of possession.
Let’s get one thing straight, this Italy team are not the team that won the World Cup in 2006. The very fact that a West Ham reject (Diamanti) came on in the second half, looked like one of their best players and then scored the winning penalty says it all.
Pirlo aside, there are not many world beaters in the Italy squad but the one thing that they knew how to do very well was keep the ball.
When they had possession, they would look for the simple pass and play the game at their own tempo. Build a move slowly and space will appear, a chance will be created as you wear down your opponent.
They knew that there was no need to launch aimless balls forward. Only when the likes of Pirlo saw a great run being made by Ballotelli or Cassano would a ball over the top be considered, something which worked to great effect last night.
Now I don’t know what instructions were given to the England team by Roy Hodgson last night, but the execution was completely wrong.
Firstly, they allowed the Italians far too much time on the ball, allowing them to get into that passing rhythm. The Italians played a pressing game, which meant that any England player in posession was under instant pressure, forcing mistakes. The Italian coach had obviously done his homework.
Secondly, the number of times when an aimless long ball was aimed towards Rooney, Welbeck, or Young was incredulous. The England team would be chasing shadows for minutes at a time, get a tackle in to win the ball back and then immediately launch the ball downfield, instantly surrendering the possession you worked so hard to get back.
However, the most infuriating thing watching the game last night was the short range passing. It seemed as if the England players were incapable of playing a five yard pass under pressure.
There has to be something fundamentally wrong with the coaching in this country for this to be the case. Why is it that Spain, Germany, Italy, France etc etc etc all look so much more comfortable on the ball and build their game around controlled short range passing and England are completely incapable of this.
Until this problem is rectified at grass roots level, nothing is going to change. So here’s a message to all young English kids playing football today – learn how to pass the f**ing ball. If you can do this well, everything else will fall into place, and maybe England might be able to compete with the best come Qatar 2022!