Having had a bit of time to sit back and reflect on England’s quarter-final defeat to Italy, I still feel bitterly disappointed with the manner of our exit. Not the penalty shootout, but the style of our football or, more accurately, lack of it. I’ve never seen England struggle so badly to keep the ball and that was the key: we couldn’t retain possession for any extended period of time and if you can’t do that in international football you are going to be found wanting against the stronger teams, which was exactly what transpired against Italy.
I think Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff are going to have to work hard ahead of September’s qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup – a major change is needed. They have to look at how we are going to play at international level because we need to see far more of the ball than we did during the tournament. Roy’s suggested that a revolution may be in order and I certainly hope that is the case.
The Italians were on a different tactical and technical plain to us and they’re not even in the top few teams in the world at the moment. They played a midfield diamond in the quarter-final, while they’ve also played three at the back and a more basic 4-4-2 as well at this tournament, demonstrating a tactical flexibility that just hasn’t been there for England. I said before the game that I expected England to have problems if they couldn’t close down and deal with Andrea Pirlo and that’s unfortunately exactly what happened. Their diamond worked perfectly and our 4-4-2 was unable to nullify that.
When I played for England it was in a 4-4-2 and I chased the ball quite a lot in the 1980s – that’s why I’ve never really played the formation as a manager at international level. Roy may want to persist with it. He’s an experienced man and it’s worked for him before throughout his career. Maybe the preparation time wasn’t long enough for them to see exactly how he wanted them to play. However, I think it’s crying out for the system to change and, if Roy looks back on the tournament, he will surely see that it’s time to abandon that traditional 4-4-2.
The midfield was being dictated to by all of the other teams at Euro 2012. The maximum amount we’ve had is around 40% possession and it was even the same in the pre-tournament friendlies against Belgium and Norway. We need to pack the midfield more and provide more options when we have the ball – whether it’s a 4-3-3, a flexible 4-5-1 or even the bold 3-5-2 the Italians have done, which is something I used myself as England manager. You can hunt the ball higher up the pitch and there is less of the long-ball football that has characterised England over the past few weeks. We need to retain the ball better, it’s as simple as that. We might have Jack Wilshere coming into the midfield if he’s fit and he is that sort of ball-player but, aside from him, we haven’t got a great depth of fresh new blood to come in and change things. It is a bit worrying, but it will just require a few of the current crop to knuckle down and play with a bit more freedom.
Looking at the England players’ individual performances at the tournament, you have to say that the back four and Joe Hart were excellent throughout. But then again, the way we played meant there was always going to be a real onus on them to be solid. I’d have liked to have seen the full backs given a little bit more licence to roam. We have got two very good attacking full-backs in Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole and they need to be unleashed when possible. I think Steven Gerrard did okay, without being sensational, while Ashley Young, James Milner, Scott Parker and Wayne Rooney could all have all done a bit more really. The balance just wasn’t really right and England really need to find the right ingredients to make that happen for the upcoming qualifiers.
Roy may have felt with the luck we’d had in the tournament, and even in normal time against Italy, that the shootout was to be the moment England ended their penalty jinx. I certainly believed luck was on our side, but it was not to be. The shootout obviously brought back memories for me of our World Cup knockout match against Argentina in 1998. It’s very frustrating way to lose and, though there is an emotional side to it, frustration is the overwhelming feeling.
In reality, though, there were vast differences between my England team’s exit on penalties in 1998 and this latest elimination. Fourteen years ago, we were up against a hugely talented Argentina side and played with ten men for more than an hour. We were magnificent on the night and no-one could have argued if we had progressed. Against Italy this time around, we were, quite frankly, outclassed and didn’t deserve to go through. If we had won it I would have felt we were very, very, very fortunate.
However, a common theme across both sets of penalties is that individuals missed their spot-kicks. It’s always sad to see players miss and no matter what you say they will feel responsible. As the manager, you take all the blame off them. I was lucky in that my lads who missed – David Batty and Paul Ince – were two strong characters and, though they were absolutely gutted, I knew they could deal with it. You back them to the hilt as they put themselves forward when some people didn’t, and Sunday night would have been the same. If they are brave enough and confident enough then they can’t be blamed.
Personal experience plays a role I’m sure, but I’ve always felt the penalty shootout system needs to be adapted. I believe that FIFA should look at doing the penalties at 90 minutes instead, before going on to play extra-time. The team that lost the shootout would then have to go out and chase a goal in extra-time, knowing that, if it finished as a draw, they would lose. It will encourage teams to go out and play and it will make extra-time more entertaining as well. Look at how England played, digging in and playing for penalties rather than trying to score. If Italy had won a penalty shootout before extra-time we would have to go out and attack and play and try to get that goal because if it had stayed a draw we would have been out. It would also take the burden away from individuals who miss penalties because you would have another 30 minutes to play and for anyone to win the game.
For Euro 2012, though, we will continue to rely on the traditional method and I’m sure Italy will be hoping it doesn’t go to a shootout in their semi-final, with penalty kings Germany the opponents in Warsaw. It should be a captivating semi-final and I’ll be interested to see whether or not Cesare Prandelli reverts to the 3-5-2 formation that he used earlier in the tournament.
Italy are certainly going to need to be more disciplined in defence than they were against England. They didn’t really have to defend against us but when we did have a go at them in the first half they did look vulnerable – I personally don’t think they will have enough defensive prowess to keep Germany at bay. Joachim Low’s side were my pre-tournament pick and I’ve been mightily impressed with the way they’ve played. They took what appeared to be a risk against Greece in swapping their front three but it proved completely justified as Miroslav Klose, Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus came in and did the business. They will surely make it to the final, with a squad boasting the sort of depth that England can only dream of at present.© ESPN