It was only Wales.
All the pre-match hype from those mis-guided Welsh players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey about superior passion (alaways an over-rated commodity) and the non-selection of England players into a combined team made me wonder just how good yesterday’s (June 16) Euros opponents were going to be.
Actually they were still Wales. They were as poor as you’d expect with the Reading right-back and an unattached centre-forward in their starting line-up. Their pe-match arrogance was out of all proportion to their ability and, more disappointingly, their ambition.
By common consent England’s weakness is their defending which, unfathomably to me, still isn’t enough for manager Roy Hodgson to ditch his over-cautious approach. And yet Wales played with five at the back, set out for a 0-0 in the hope that Bale might benefit from a goal-keeping error with one of his centre-of-the-goal free kicks and they could then continue their exaggerated narrative of outstanding management and genius players.
That it came within two minutes of working says a lot about England under their befuddled coach.
Some will say Hodgson deserved credit for his double half-time substitutions, but even co-comentator Robbie Savage, the chief clown in the bloated pundit circus, knew what changes England had to make to continue their 34-year dominance over their neighbours.
Did Hodgson not see how awful Raheem Sterling was against Russia? Did he not see that Harry Kane’s punishing season had caught up with him? Amid the euphoria of a last-minute winner against a dreadful side, he’s probably not noticed that Dele Alli looks knackered and needs a rest.
No, Hodgson’s substitutions were forced in the same way that Louis Van Gaal was forced to pick Marcus Rashford (how good was he when he came on yesterday by the way?) for Manchester United because of injuries. Sometimes it’s better for managers to be lucky than good.
England will have to score twice to win any game at these Euros. Hodgson has taken five strikers with him so maybe he ought to use more than one of them. If it had been 0-0 at half-time would Hodgson have sent Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge on? I doubt it.
My intial impression of this tournament is that it won’t actually take much winning. The best teams (Germany, Italy, Spain, France) don’t have a prolific goal-scoring striker which is good news for Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill who found it tough enough going against Hal Robson-Kanu yesterday. Put Poland’s Robert Lewandowski into any of those top sides and they’d breeze to the title.
But, unless England up their passing tempo by dumping Wayne Rooney (Vardy had one touch in 45 minutes and was still far more dangerous than the square-passing skipper) and installing Jack Wilshere to support a freshened-up Alli, the quarter-finals will still be the limit of their progress.
It was a good day to be an English fan yesterday if only to see Wales retreat into becoming a ‘plucky’ side again rather than continuing the pretence they became world-beaters by finishing second in a qualifying group involving the might of Israel, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus and Andorra.
If they’d had a go at England they could have continued the fairy-tale, Funny things can happen when you play positively as Northern Ireland proved later in the day.
Sadly Wales were too scared and England and Hodgson escaped.