England deserve credit for defensive performances at Euro 2020
EURO 2008 failed to qualify. The 2010 World Cup won in the group although it failed to beat the United States or Algeria. Euro 2012, dominated the group, but drew with France and conceded two goals to Sweden. 2014 World Cup, before the last group match after losing the first two matches. Euro 2016 finished second in the group behind Wales after failing to beat either Russia or Slovakia. 2018 World Cup, group runner-up after losing to Belgium.
Six majors, five quite underwhelming English performances in the group stage plus a competition when they were so bad they weren’t even there. The exception, perhaps, is the last World Cup, when the group’s loss to Belgium came with a very different team. Even then, England only had to beat Tunisia and Panama to qualify.
In the last day or so, an error seems to have been created that England have become a team that waltzes through the group stages of the European Championships and World Cups before taking off in the round of 16 of the tournament. The second half of this description undoubtedly rings true. But the first part just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Finishing at the top of a tournament group with seven out of nine points, and without conceding a goal, is not something an England side have consistently achieved in the past. So while it is fair to raise concerns about the progress of Gareth Southgate’s side to Euro 2020 at this point, some of the stories that have unfolded over the past 24 hours have been downright ludicrous.
“Sack Southgate, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Well, given that his team just won his group, he clearly does. “England are a shame, they are the worst team in the tournament.” Try saying that to Scotland, who celebrated so madly after last Friday’s goalless draw but won’t make the round of 16. “I have never seen an England team play less exciting football.” Did you watch the 0-0 draw with Algeria in Cape Town or the 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte?
Obviously, England’s attack hasn’t been as exciting as one might have hoped, and as they move towards the bottom 16 they’re going to have to become more precise and efficient in the last third. Despite everything he showed on Tuesday, getting Harry Kane to fire again at full speed remains a major challenge.
There was a marked improvement in the overall pace of England’s attack for the first half hour of the Czech game, with the selection of Bukayo Saka adding pace and energy in the wide positions and the presence of Jack Grealish providing the Southgate squad with a creative presence capable of spinning the Czech defense and threading the balls past the four defenders.
England were most impressive at the other end of the pitch, a scenario that didn’t seem particularly likely before the tournament began. It’s not just that England haven’t conceded a goal in their first three games which has been particularly impressive in their time in the group stage, it’s the fact that they barely let go. pass an opportunity in three games.
Of course, you have to take into account the offensive limits of Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic, but England’s defense has been remarkably strong all the same. Jordan Pickford’s club form has been a major concern for most of last season, but the Wearsider hasn’t been wrong so far. John Stones was equally excellent, Tyrone Mings recovered superbly when needed in the first two matches and a new Harry Maguire returned on Tuesday night to mark Patrik Schick’s exit. Southgate’s double pivot in the defensive midfield may not be the most popular tactical ploy, but it offers England a level of tactical security that could be crucial on Tuesday.
While attacks can dazzle in the group stages, more often than not it is the defenses that determine the outcome of knockout matches. On this point, England approach the round of 16 in good shape.