Euro 2012: Dismissive opinions pose biggest threat to England
Stupidity comes in many forms and so it proved on Monday when the nation ruined what had been a promising afternoon all-round by giving its collective assessment of England’s Group D prospects following a rousing contest between Ukraine and Sweden in Kiev.
The reaction to England’s own efforts against the French were symbolic of the performance itself, measured and encouraging. Hyperbole was cast aside and everybody toed the line in keeping it real. A solid start, a platform to build on, yet nothing to write home about. No cause for anyone to start getting giddy.
Given what Roy Hodgson has at his disposal and the obvious advantages Laurent Blanc enjoyed in putting his squad together, we really couldn’t have expected anything other than a pragmatic approach. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if the Three Lions want to make anything of the next three weeks, then sitting back with two banks of four is probably the best way forward.
Unfortunately, maintaining the same level of pragmatism in pundit and public opinion was too much to ask. If the overall verdict of events in Donetsk was refreshingly cautious, there was no such luck in Kiev because common sense was short-lived.
Expectations had to be raised somehow and the first hasty conclusions came from Mark Lawrenson about half-an-hour into the later game. “Well, going off what I’m seeing here, I’d say England haven’t got too much to be worried about,” observed Lawro, as both teams went about their task with real verve.
Sure, there were mistakes. Yes, both teams had obvious weaknesses to exploit. But they also showed glimpses of fluidity and imagination. Two things that England clearly lacked in their match.
Alas, Lawrenson was backed up by commentator Jonathan Pearce, and later by the Match of the Day studio. Suddenly, it was out there and the view had taken a firm grip on the rest of the nation. It was an assessment that everyone seemed like they were itching to make, whether they truly believed it or not. Nothing to worry about here, England should go through.
My point isn’t that Ukraine or Sweden were fearsome in any way. My point is that you cannot possibly draw lasting conclusions on the basis of one match. For what it’s worth, I’m still undecided but I’ll be much better informed once we’ve been round the block another time.
On Monday, both Ukraine and Sweden went into their game knowing that, on paper, it was their best chance of picking up three points, so they approached the game accordingly. Against England, both are liable to be rather more cautious. And that’s before we consider that Ukraine are essentially a counter-attacking team who have now put themselves in a position to complete the remaining matches on their preferred terms.
As for England, my over-riding concern is that we’ve got the thin end of the wedge in terms of how the fixtures fall on the back of that result between the two outsiders. I’d much prefer the Three Lions to be coming up against the co-hosts next on the back of their excessive Shevchenko-fuelled celebrations, rather than a brooding bogey side that waves bye-bye to the competition if they get beat.
Never one to keep his opinions to himself, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has heavily criticised his colleagues for their attitude in that opener, while head coach Erik Hamren has referred to them as ‘cowards’. Both are reports that point towards a backlash of some sort coming England’s way.
Meanwhile, others are taking comfort from the idea that England’s chances might be enhanced by a possible injury to Ibrahimovic, but do they realise that Sweden’s performances in the build-up to this tournament were better without their supposed talisman?
England’s tendency to start reasonably well and accumulate unforeseen problems along the way is nothing new. And part of the problem seems to be this default dismissal of smaller nations. Even when we do what’s expected, it’s seldom straightforward and unnecessary exertions only come back to bite us later on.
Those little grievances aside, I’m in total agreement: England have got nothing to worry about.england, euro 2012, football
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