Optimism in defeat….
Optimism is something that England have taken into every tournament they have qualified for over the last decade. Expectations for the so called “golden generation” was high but never lived up to the hype. The removal of the golden generation title has lead fan to believe that the lack of expectations levelled at the team means there is less pressure on the team and the team may finally meet the expectations which are no longer there.
Still with us? Good!
The Italians have had a quiet build up to the tournament. Their only issue prior to the game was an injury to Buffon, leading to PSG’s No.1 Salvatore Sirigu making his combative debut between the sticks.
England’s team selection debut revolved around whether Raheem Sterling would start for England, he did at the expense of Adam Lallana and forcing Wayne Rooney on to the left wing with Roy Hodgson preferring Sterling in behind the striker.
When these two teams played each other in 2012 the game was run by Andrea Pirlo and this wasn’t much different. The majority of the Italians attacks were focused down the right wing, overloading an isolated Leighton Baines resulting in many crosses but not leading to many chances.
The Italians opening goal came from a corner routine, the pass dummied by Pirlo finding Claudio Marchisio. His long range shot maneuvered it way through a crowd of Englishmen and hitting the back of the net, Joe Hart left unsighted and helpless.
England’s response was almost immediate, a Pirlo worthy pass from England’s man of the match Sterling found Rooney down the left wing. A similarly superb cross from Rooney to the back post was met sweetly by Daniel Sturridge, who performed his trademark celebration which is only usually enjoyed by Liverpool fans.
The winning goal was scored just after half time. England had switched Danny Welbeck and Rooney to offer some help to the frustrated Baines. However with Welbeck mimicking Rooney and not tracking back, Baines didn’t prevent Antonio Candreva cross to the back post which was met by the enigmatic Mario Balotelli.
Italy dictated the pace of the game, those who may want to preach about the demise of tiki taka football may want to hold off. england still managed to create chances to equalise with the best chance falling too Rooney but he dragged it wide. Pirlo nearly capped his magnificent performance with what would have been the best free kick score at a world cup but was denied by the cross bar. With many English player succumbing to cramp and the Italians happy to let the ball do the hard work it was clear the game had slipped from England.
When the referee blew the final whistle like at the end of many defeat England have suffered there was a sense of disappointment. But this disappointment wasn’t like the rest, this disappointment was driven by the knowledge that we could and should have won that game. We weren’t destroyed by Italy. In fact we created more chances and looked the more likely to score. There were 2 main differences between the 2 teams were a world class midfielder in Pirlo running the show for Italy, England don’t have that kind of talent in center midfield but not many countries do. And secondly Italy took their chances, we didn’t didn’t.
Hodgson was surprisingly and uncharacteristically bold with his squad selection, picking a younger squad than anyone could have predicted. And with some outstanding performances from the likes of Sterling, Sturridge and Ross Barkley the sense that England are very close to getting it right in regards to team selection and system. As well as some overdue big performances from some key senior players. And with the result in the other game of this group, it shows that anything is possible and everything is still to play for.