EURO 2020: The Final Countdown

England has made it through to a Major Tournament Final for the first time since 1966. The Ericle has tried to offer an objective perspective of Euro 2020. All that has now gone out of the window and this posting is, unashamedly, from the heart and perspective of an England supporter for whom, (have I mentioned this before? 😉), going to every England game in 1966 ranks among the highlights of his life. This may disappoint My Kind Reader in Italy who expected me to be objective about the merits of the award of the penalty to England; also My Kind Australian Reader, who messaged me before the Semi-Final that he was abandoning his support for England due to the unacceptable amount of media hype that the UK press was generating. To them, I apologise if I have fallen short of the well-quoted words of G. K. Chesterton: “A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying” … but, in my defence and in this case, I think I do!

1966: England players walking in Golders Green on morning of The WC Final

When The Ericle confidently predicted an England v Italy Final, he could never anticipated what close run affairs both semi-finals would be. Spain – in their best game of the tournament – played wonderfully and would surely have reached The Final if they’d had strikers with more potency. Denmark lost because, ultimately, England wore them down. So, in the end, it is a Final involving the 2 teams that have approached Euro 2020 with the most pragmatism; a fact that may mark out this tournament as a watershed in the history of major footballing tournaments – an acknowledgment by future major contenders that tournaments, involving potentially 7 or 8 games, are unlikely to be won by teams that don’t plan realistically for what is involved.

As the minutes were ticking away in their Semi-Final, England did something I had never seen them do before: they strung together 54 passes without The Danes getting a touch; 2min 33sec of possession football that effectively iced the game. As Henry Winter succinctly put it in The Times, this England has become ‘streetwise’. This is no accident – it has come about as a result of a plan set in motion over 6 years ago by the Football Association; a plan, as expressed by Gareth Southgate in 2014:

“… (that) we should keep the qualities of our spirits and never-say-die attitude, but we have to add technical ability to that, tactical awareness and game intelligence …”

It’s a plan that plays to the strengths of this England team. This is a squad that has quality in depth, is fit, mostly young and mostly full of Premier League experience. The fact that Southgate goes into The Final with a fit full squad is no accident. It has come about as a result of resource management and player rotation; a strategy which afforded starting the tournament with a squad that included injured key players, (Kane, Henderson & Maguire) that Southgate knew he would need later if England were to go deep. And this is an England team that has wised up – belatedly compared to most other teams – to the fact that the 23rd human on the field can decide the outcome of the game. England, nor any of their supporters, have any need to apologise for, or justify, gaining a match-deciding ‘soft’ penalty. Like it or not, this is very much a part of the modern game and – lest anybody needs reminding – quite a distance from such thespian performances as per Messrs Simeone & Ronaldo in getting Beckham & Rooney sent off in the 1998 & 2006 World Cups !!!

After the less-than-inspiring group performances, The Ericle – as did many others – questioned whether this England had the pace and the passion. Even after the historic win over an underwhelming Germany and the 4-0 rolling over of Ukraine, I questioned whether Southgate was a Lucky General or a Managerial Genius. After the Denmark game it would be ridiculous to suggest the former and, although it would be equally ridiculous to suggest that he is ‘a genius’, Southgate has proved himself to be an intelligent, methodical & motivating team manager, who has taken stock of his resources and produced a blueprint that meets the requirements. And, most significantly, his plans include an adaptability that allows for flexibility on a game-by-game, situation-by-situation basis; Shaw-for-Trippier-for-Shaw; Sako-for-Sancho-for-Sako; starting Grealish; subbing Grealish .. and having the bravery to bring Grealish on as sub and then subbing for him as the situation required.

Can England win Euro 2020? Of course, they can.

Up till the semi-finals, I saw them as 2nd favourites against any of the major contenders on the other side of the draw. There were good reasons to believe this. With all due respect to Denmark, and all their qualities, the fact remains that, though, they will be ranked higher after their performances in Europa 2020, Denmark were only the 8th ranked team according to the most recent (Feb 2021) FIFA/Europe rankings. But then Italy were only 6th and England 3rd. But this ranking hides the fact that, by beating Spain, Italy achieved a record-breaking 15th consecutive Euro victory. More importantly Italy, besides having a squad of highly talented players in every position, has proven that they know how to win football games. Yes, they failed to reach the last World Cup Finals but they now have a manager who is Pragmatic with a capital P! So why do I still believe that England can win. Because of all of the above.

Italy have shown that they have a very compelling claim to be the better team but they have yet to come up against a team that may possibly be more pragmatic than even they are. In their semi-final Italy showed an incapacity to deal with Spain; in fact, with the injury to Spinazzola, I’d go so far as to question whether they have a Plan B. That is not to say that their Plan A may not be good enough to beat England, but it may not be. If the occasion does not prove too much for them – and, there has been little in the games, so far, that suggest that this will be the case – there is every reason to believe that England can match Italy cheek-and jowl. AND they have home advantage … England expects and I expect that they will do it. There I’ve said it: England will win Euro 2020 and I expect them to do it without resort to a penalty shoot-out.

COME ON, ENGLAND!

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