The final group B fixtures were played on Monday night and Roy Hodgson’s England sat top of the pile going into their clash with Slovakia. In their opening game of the illustrious tournament, The Three Lions’ roar was muted as a Vasili Berezutski equaliser deep into stoppage time salvaged a point for Russia. However, that feeling of disappointment and despair was soon forgotten in their next outing as Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge cancelled out Gareth Bale’s distant free kick to secure a vital victory against Wales.
With four points to their name, England required just one more to progress into the next phase of the tournament. Another win, however, would send us through as group winners. With the job not quite finished and a potential fall to third place a possibility depending on other results, it was a suprise to see Hodgson tinker with the lineup by making wholesale changes. As the whole nation watched with the expectancy that we would cruise to victory, things didn’t pan out accordingly and we had to settle for a 0-0 draw. Meanwhile, Wales made light work of defeating Russia and a 3-0 triumph meant they had the honour of topping group B.
Should we be disappointed?
Prior to the tournament getting underway, many pundits and supporters alike were waxing lyrical about the abundance of ability that the current England squad possesses. Couple that with us being drawn in a seemingly simple group on paper and you have a nation of fans who are expecting exciting, winning football. So, with us finishing below our not so beloved neighbours Wales, should we feel aggrieved and upset that we haven’t ran away with the group? In my opinion, no. We are unbeaten going into the next stage, we should be optimistic.
In all of our group games, the opposition set up extremely defensively to nullify our attacking threat. Notoriously, England have always struggled to break the so called ‘lesser teams’ down, so it was no surprise to see us failing to beat Slovakia. I’m not using it as an excuse, but we were handed very little space to exploit. Despite us not finishing top of the pile, we are undoubtedly the best team in that group. I mean this in no disrespect to Wales, but when Russia and Slovakia came up against them they didn’t show them as much respect as they did England. They attacked Chris Coleman’s side and committed more men forward, leaving space in behind for the likes of Bale to utilise. If they had done that to us, I’m adamant we would have won both ties.
Now we are through, the runners up of group F await. Hungary, Iceland, Austria and Portugal are all potential opponents for us in the round of 16. With the group stage now out of the way, it’s purely knockout football and this is a different ball game altogether. Teams simply have to win to progress, whereas in the group you can perhaps afford to settle for a 0-0 draw from the outset. Failure to turn possession into clear-cut chances has been a worry at times, but the 3-2 win over Germany – albeit in a friendly – shows we can cut it with the best. In a weird kind of way, I would like us to draw Portugal in the next round. They are the strongest team we could face looking at their squad, but we could profit going forward against them as they look to score themselves.
Although we could face France in the Quarter-Final should we prevail in our next fixture, I am not too worried. Regardless of your route to the final, you have to beat the best to be the best. The only questionable element for me in this England setup is having Roy Hodgson at the helm, and his way of playing perhaps doesn’t suit is entirely, but I am still very optimistic when it comes to our chances. I haven’t really seen any standouts in the tournament so far after watching the majority of the games, so why can’t we go all the way? Whatever will be will be as Doris Day once said. Let’s just see what happens as we all know it’s not always comfortable being an England supporter.