There will be a few home truths told in this article so let me get on my knees and start with a confession. I did not watch every match in EURO 2016. And to be perfectly honest, I thought that the standard in quite a few of the ones I did see was not particularly high.
The successful teams, though, all had certain things in common. They had defenders who defended, midfielders who controlled the play and attackers who made chances and scored goals!
Now, those might seem fairly obvious attributes and at one time they were. However, things have changed and certain aspects of the modern game ‘do my heid in’. Like full backs standing 20 yards up the pitch from where they should be when their side is under attack; like defenders who spend a couple of minutes passing the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, well inside their own half.
Do they not realize that this ploy, while admittedly maintaining possession, just gives the opposition midfielders and defenders plenty of time to deploy their forces and shut down space?
England played like this against Iceland and got nowhere. Then they brought on Marcus Rashford who just put his head down and took on the right side of the Icelandic defence; it really unsettled them and makes me wonder why he was not brought on earlier?
Certain teams, like Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland deserve great praise for rising to the challenge. Some players found the pressure too much.
Who would have believed, for instance, that very experienced performers in the penalty shoot-out between Italy and Germany would not only fail to score but miss the target altogether – Remarkable!
Anyway, it is all history now and we must look forward to our qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Brazil, the first match of which is due in September.
Our section will not be easy. Our recent performances have given us a FIFA rating of 43. Our opponents this time round are Malta, ranked 157 on that list, who have never qualified for a major finals; Slovenia, 57 on the FIFA list, who got to the finals of EURO 2000 and the World Cup of 2002; Slovakia, ranked 24, who qualified for the finals of the World Cup in 2010 and EURO 2016; and England, whose record we all know..
An article in one of the dailies last week stated that managerless England will be really down by the time we meet them, initially at Wembley in November. I nearly burst out laughing. Surely the lads in England’s colours, having been heavily criticised for their performances at EURO 2016, will be champing at the bit to prove their worth. And who better to prove it against than us, the ancient enemy from north of the border!
Before our first match – against Malta away on 6th September – Gordon Strachan and his team have some work to do. I hope THEY watched ALL of the EURO 2016 matches, assessing the various systems in place, especially for Slovakia and England, checking what worked and what didn’t, noting individual strengths and weaknesses.
Then, its back to the drawing board, finding personnel who are comfortable in a role – be it fullback, midfield or attack – and then deciding on a system of play which suits the players while at the same time, will be efficient and effective in these crucial matches.
And by the way, guys, we can’t afford to fail! 20 years of non-qualification for the major tournaments would be just too hard to take!
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