After the match last night Roy Hodgson suggested that England had dominated all three of their matches so far and it is only a matter of time before they start to take the chances they are creating and ‘make someone pay’.
While changes to the team had been anticipated, the sheer number (6 players being given their first starts in the competition) felt like a gamble by the England boss. Despite the changes, England’s first half performance promised a lot as they took the game to Slovakia, the Liverpool combination of Clyne, Sturridge and Henderson down the right hand side proved particularly dangerous and Weiss didn’t know how to deal with Clyne’s constant overlaps. Lallana on the other side of the pitch looked lively and was finding space between the lines, and Vardy had a couple of chances. As the half wore on Slovakia dropped deeper and deeper and it started to feel like England needed to capitalise on their dominance before the break.
In the second half Slovakia got tighter and narrower at the back and played so deep that Vardy was virtually nullified with no space to run into behind the back four. England kept trying to pick their way through the middle with little success. Rooney and Delle Alli were introduced and the latter very nearly found the breakthrough moments after coming on only to be denied by yet another block by Skrtel.
Hodgson threw on Kane who missed a late chance as did Sturridge who failed to connect with a good ball over the top from Dier. In the end England were left frustrated but were lacking in terms of creativity and cutting edge. For all their dominance of the first three matches this has been a theme for England so far, while it can only be assumed that they will have more space to play against better teams, there is also the worry that the defence, which was cited as a weakness before the tournament, has not been really tested yet.
Whether England would have fared any better without all the changes is debateable; however their failure to put away a poor Russia side or to find a way through against Slovakia makes it feel that yet again they have made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves.
The bluntness of England’s attack meant that Wales, who were able to make their chances count against Slovakia and Russia, topped the group; while it is a fantastic achievement for Chris Coleman’s side it now means that England head to Nice to face the runners-up of Group F, which could be Portugal; should they get through that in all likelihood it will be France in the Stade de France in the quarter final.
This evening I will be watching our adopted team from Nice, Northern Ireland take on the World Champions Germany and while it looks like a formidable challenge I will be hoping that fortune smiles on them and they can sneak a point that would probably see them through to the knockout stages. After that I think it will be Spain against Croatia as there seems to be a bit more on that game.