Michael Bailey: Three Lions on a leash – which doesn’t leave much gleaming for England or manager Roy Hodgson
PUBLISHED: 16:08 24 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:05 29 June 2016
Euro 2016 caught light as a tournament on Wednesday night, just in time for the knockout stages. And it was glorious.
It’s hard to imagine many better nights on the international football stage for Norwich City than what we witnessed this week.
We spent a bit of time ahead of Euro 2016 trying to tie up all the great moments former Canaries have enjoyed at major finals while still on City’s books. They are few and far between, and came nowhere near the Republic of Ireland efforts of Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady.
Sure, it may mean one of those two is even more likely to be at another club next season. Yes, it should have put a few more millions on the price tag. But that’s irrelevant compared to the pride and joy all City fans felt as Wes clipped that glorious ball over the Italian defence and Robbie glanced it in.
In the words of Jonathan Pearce: “Hoolahan created. He found his club-mate. What a ball. What a run. What a goal! They’ll be telling tales about it for years to come.”
Be it Norwich City’s victory over Italy, Icelandic commentators finding a new range for the human voice to occupy or Cristiano Ronaldo swinging from toddler tantrums to penalty box genius – it has left everyone with two football-free days to sit down and think about what they’ve done, as well as some pretty special action that is about to come.
And yet, once again there is one country on the outside, happy to look in as long as they don’t get too close.
It felt like the only way to describe England’s goalless draw with Slovakia on Monday in its immediate aftermath – horribly arrogant and complacent. And sadly, the point was proven as the rest of the group stage unravelled.
Wales won Group B and their side of the last-16 draw involves Switzerland, Poland, Croatia, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Belgium. Just to make it clear – one of those eight countries is going to be at the Stade de France on Sunday, July 10 competing in the European Championship final.
The other side of the draw? That would include Germany, France, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Spain and, of course, England.
If ever you wanted a tale of missed opportunity, this was it.
Maybe it didn’t come down to one factor, but you could argue it came down to one man.
Making changes comes with the territory but for Roy Hodgson to make so many on Monday was inexcusable – if only for taking an unnecessary risk. Is the England boss trying to get Jack Wilshere fit for Arsenal next season? Because that’s basically all he’s achieving there. And as for leaving out your captain, who has always performed better when he’s playing regularly? The word misjudgment doesn’t do it justice.
But it doesn’t stop there. On the back of those changes, Monday reeked of a side convinced it had already done the important part of its group stage – winning a game. Slovakia was just a box to tick.
Heaven forbid they should be at full strength and win the group. Why on earth would their opponents stick everyone behind the ball and ask England to figure out a way to beat them? And for almost the entirety of the match, it looked completely beyond them.
Yes, England live to fight another day. They qualified from the group. They’ve even been easier on the eye than in some recent tournaments and they’ve got some wonderful players at their disposal. And maybe from here, it will click.
But for two of their three games, the manager has cost them points – and that’s ignoring the previous poor two tournaments Hodgson has been in charge, the last one in which they didn’t win a single game. Maybe this is just the England way?
Euro 2016 is a big occasion for football due to another reason – it’s the first time the sport’s altered rules have got a competitive outing.
The International Football Association Board’s changes were given quite a bit of coverage as last season came to a conclusion and one of the changes was a big one – only one player now needs to take kick-off, and they can leather the ball in any direction, as far as they like.
Most countries have taken this on board and figured out how they want to approach things.
And England? They have two players taking the kick-off to each other, as if nothing has changed.
Sure, it’s a small cog in the grand tactical battles every football team takes on whenever they head out on the pitch. But how often do you hear about the small margins? And what’s more, what does it say about England that they would rather just carry on how it always was?
Ironic, given this was the championships when things were supposed to change for the Three Lions.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey