e-2004
Monday, July 05, 2004
  Morning after
There were quite a few fireworks popping up in my corner of North London last night, I can tell you. Many congratulations to Greece. Deserved winners - not least because I think they're the only team that didn't drop their (very high) standards at any point in the tournament. For a while, I was rooting for Portugal, but only because I was hoping for a devastating display of attacking brio; when that didn't happen, it was Greece all the way.

I'm also perversely very glad that England didn't make the final. Greece would have done a similar job on us, and losing that game would have been far more heartbreaking (and even more of an opportunity for pathetic excuse-making) than going out to the hosts. At least at the moment we know precisely what England's problems are. Sadly, they're exactly the same problems that have afflicted every England side since time immemorial.

1) Those penalty things. Glenn Hoddle once jusitified not practising them because 'they're a lottery', and I've seen a few broadsheet commentators use the same word in the last few days. No they're not. If you spend 15 mins every day practising penalities, you will be better than everybody else who doesn't. This is such a childishly obvious point to make, but one that seems to escape some of the richest players and coaches in the game. (One of whom made a significant part of his reputation because he recognised the value of practising free kicks.)

2) Passing. I'm fed up of people like Beckham and Gerrard (both fine players on their day), being praised for their 'range of passing'. What this means is that they can both hit an acre of space from 50 yards. Now, in some ways this is lucky, because this is the only way in which England play, wanging it forward so that we can watch a man who used to be the best young striker in the world sprint into the advertising hoardings. It's a terrible way to play football, but I suppose we do have the players for it.

Now, watch Greece. Every single one of their outfield players is comfortable on the ball (Compare Dellas and Sol Campbell for starters). They all have an accurate and reliable first touch, they all get into positions to be passed to, and while they don't play raking cross-field passes (yawn), they can faultlessly put together 10-20 passes around against the world's best. I can't believe that England players can't trap and pass a ball accurately, so the worrying thing is that they just don't want to: the team never looks like it wants to be in possession. They play the real game like I used to play the EA Sports version - attempting an over-ambitious ball from your own half then volleying into the net. Needless to say, it rarely worked, and I always lost. Rooney was the only exception - every time he had his back to goal, he simply passed inside, kept possession for his team, and tried again. Never mind the shots and the runs - this rare injection of common bloody sense was a joy to watch. England's best player of the tournament was the youngest of them all, but he was the only one who didn't act as though this was playground kick-and-run.

Tim
 
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