I said before the France game I’d be happy with a draw. France were good and England defended well, as you’d expect from a Roy Hodgson team. At times they defended too deep and invited the French on too much, but they did what they had to do and limited the clear chances against high quality players. They combated the French style very well and took the lead. If they’d managed to hold on to that lead until half time, they could well have got more than a point, but I’m happy enough with the draw.
Starting with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a bit of a surprise, but he did well. He looked confident, wasn’t overawed by the occasion, beat a few players and did his defensive duties very well. Overall he did very well. He wasn’t England’s best player, but he was far from the worst either. Roy Hodgson deserves credit. He has a reputation of being conservative and predictable, but he surprised a lot of people by putting in Oxlade-Chamberlain and it puts England in good stead.
Goals are going to be a problem against Sweden. As well as they defended, they weren’t great going forward. They’ve got pace and if they can use it more effectively, they’ll carry more of an attacking threat and create more chances. We’re set up not to concede goals and once you do that, you’ve half a chance of getting a result. It’s not ideal and it’s not the easiest on the eye, but when you want to win trophies, sometimes you need to use whatever means are at your disposal.
THE ROY WONDER – Roy Hodgson deserves credit
Sweden showed they were vulnerable from set-pieces against Ukraine, but that’s not enough of a reason to bring in Andy Carroll from the start. There’s more to football than set-pieces and I can’t see Hodgson making changes based solely on the Swedes’ defending. You want to go out and win by playing good football. There will be times later on in a game when you need a goal and you’ll bring someone on for set-pieces, but I’d hate to see that happen from the start.
Danny Welbeck did alright without being exceptional. He’s not great at holding the ball up and with the formation England play, they need a player who is capable of doing that. If we are going to utilise a target man, then it’s a role that suits Andy Carroll more than Welbeck. Welbeck has the pace and is more mobile than Carroll. The two of them have very different attributes and it’s good to have that variety. Now it’s just a matter of getting the right player in there to suit whatever style Hodgson goes with.
It’s presumed that England will show more attacking ambition against Sweden and Ukraine, but Hodgson won’t change much. If there was a more attacking inclination, then presumably we would have seen more of it in the friendlies. Against Sweden, the formation will stay the same and the tactics will stay the same. The Swedes obviously lost, but you could see how good they could be going forward and England need to be set up top cope with that.
IT SAINT HAPPENING – Sean St. Ledger rues Ireland’s defeat to Croatia
It’s looking bleak for Ireland. I fancied them to beat Croatia, but Slaven Bilic set his team up perfectly and they fully deserved their win. They made Ireland look very ordinary. You can’t say the Irish players let their manager down because you never go into a game expecting to underperform, but it never happened for Ireland. They didn’t get the breaks and I wouldn’t make too many changes. Giovanni Trapattoni picked what he thought was the best team available from his squad, but sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. The Irish players will want to give a better performance in the next couple of games, especially for all the great fans who made the trip. They’ll improve, but I can’t see it being enough to keep them in the tournament.
There’s not much more to be said about the difficultly Ireland face in their next two games. Spain played well against Italy, but wasted a few good chances. Sadly, they’ve got the players to rectify that against Ireland and I can see Spain winning that one.