Gallant show, poor tactics
JUNE 26 — So, England’s adventure in Polkraine comes to an end with a mild whimper. Not for the fact that they were eliminated, but for the realisation that they really did not have it in them after all.
The European Championship (Euro 2012) is the biggest stage in world football, after the World Cup, and one would think an intelligent and hardworking coach like Roy Hodgson would have done his homework in preparing his team for the pivotal quarter-final game against Italy.
He didn’t even have to look far, actually. That is because one of his assistants should have pointed Hodgson in the right direction. Yes, you Gary Neville.
You were still with Manchester United just a short two years ago, in February and March of 2010, when MU took on AC Milan in the last-16 round of the Champions League. In fact, you even played in the home leg of that encounter.
Couldn’t you have given some hints as to how your former master tactician-cum-manager-cum-father figure, Alex Ferguson, went about neutralising the influence of the then-Milan midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo in those two matches.
Well, let me remind you.
It was the South Korean, Park Ji Sung, who was assigned the task of keeping Pirlo quiet over two legs. Ferguson masterminded the man-to-man marking tactic that was employed almost to perfection by Park and his team-mates.
The result of the two matches was MU thrashed Milan 4-0 at home and even won at the San Siro 3-2.
Yet, now, England’s national team failed to stop Pirlo, and that too with knowing that this midfield maestro was the biggest threat to them.
To knowingly not prepare for this is conceding defeat or plain arrogance. Yes, of course, there is always the “nearest-man-picks-him-up” mentality that can be adopted by the team in defending their turf.
However, more often than not, this then translates into a “he-was-your-man” argument between players and the blame game starts.
There would have been no harm for James Milner to man mark Pirlo and for England to have a plan on how to take advantage of that situation by making it literally a 10-vs-10 match. I would not deploy Scott Parker for this man-marking job because he would have given too many freekicks away.
Still it was very fortunate for England that, somehow, Mario Balotelli and a few other Italians left their shooting boots at home. Oh yeah, and to give credit where it is due, some of England’s lads did display outstanding performances in keeping the scoreline down to zero!
On to penalties and while Joe Hart was surrounded by pieces of paper and an Ipad, Gianluigi Buffon headed off to the dressing room. Come on, surely he did not go for a pee!
Well, if there’s any consolation to take from this defeat for England fans, it is that at least the English lads did give it a go. Most of them really tried … but sad to say, the French simply laid down and died.
Of course, they were playing tournament favourites and defending champion Spain. But would it hurt to give that little extra for the French cause?
Ironically, there was more life in the Greeks, too, that even though they were pegged back by Germany (in more ways than one, on and off the pitch). They were able to get some penetration, scoring twice.
But to surrender like the French will surely bring about calls for Laurent Blanc to consider other career options.
The French have outdone the Dutch in disrupting the unity of the team.
The Spanish must be laughing their heads off as their Barcelona-Real Madrid selections keep marching on. There was a split, if you believe what you read, but it will be interesting to see the unity when the Spaniards gang up on Pepe and Ronaldo.
There will be no love lost as Sergio Ramos will not blink an eye when he has to clatter into Ronaldo. What are the odds that Ronaldo will favour outstripping Alvaro Arbeloa over Jordi Alba?
The semis quite simply have the best four teams in Europe and I am still sticking with a Spain-versus-Germany final but my underdogs Italy could well surprise.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.