start the hype.
England “cruised” through the second game of their easy side of the draw, against a hapless Ukraine to book their second successive semi-final spot.
I say “cruised” because they scored four excellent goal and in the act of scoring them cruised past Ukraine but hell, they made heavy weather of a lot of that match and the performance in no way lived up to the hyperbole put out by the pundits.
So all those pundits that were saying Harry Kane had to be dropped or do – yes you Carragher, you clown – did they see what happens when you actually provide Kane with some service? It ain’t rocket surgery or brain science.
You do worry when England score early in games like this, they do get a bit Spursy at times.
Well, well, well, has Sterling been listening? He actually passed the ball to Kane, actually passed to Kane in a good position. No it wasn’t as great a pass as Jermaine Jenas was wanking on about, Kane wouldn’t have had to stretch for it if it was.
I didn’t think Sterling was that bright but he soon learned from that pass and didn’t produce another one to Kane like that for the rest of the game. Didn’t like seeing Kane pull to one behind his own goal tally.
The pundits were telling us how well it was working but it wasn’t, with again the ball being played backwards far too much,. Spaces were there in the first half an hour, even with Ukraine pushed back into a back five. But yet again, Sterling and Sancho didn’t get to the byline, while Walker barely reached past the halfway line and Shaw, again, looked scared of his own shadow. Sterling either stayed wide and played Chuckle Brothers passing with Shaw or did his usual run inside hunt for glory down another cul-de-sac. While Sancho, who all of a sudden gets a game now he’s signed for Man United, showed he might have hung around Sterling too much. Running at defenders, instead of past them.
It was laughable Jenas saying he’d learned to link up with Walker when they were at City. What with Sancho leaving City six weeks after Walker joined.
When Ukraine were forced into an early substitution they switched formations, to a back four, and got themselves back into things. And they knew. They knew which side of England to attack. On their right Maguire kept Yarmolenko quite by not letting him cut back in on his left, his only weapon. While they attacked England’s right. Though Walker wasn’t exactly bombing into their half, he was still leaving plenty of space for the opposition to attack. When he wasn’t playing them in himself.
For the good parts of England in that half it was still 1-0 at the break and they had to come out after that half-time “talk” from Southgate. Luckily Harry won a free-kick in the first few seconds. For once Shaw put in a decent set piece, straight onto Maguire’s big slab head for the second.
That for once killed off the post Southgate half-time talk slump.
Four minutes later and Shaw produced only his second successful cross of the tournament – from the pundits you’d think he’d have put hundreds in by now. Kane pulled off his defender and yet again showed that if you provide him with some decent service he will provide the goals. Kane now joint top scorer for England.
He could have gone ahead with his hat-trick goal but an excellent shot from nowhere was excellently saved.
Less than 15 minutes later and the job really was done. Imagine being the team that let in Henderson’s first goal, after 62 games. That is an embarrassment. Another set piece goal. This time a corner from Mount and a free header from Henderson.
Teacher’s pet Mount straight back in. He ran about a bit, played the press – which Sterling again ignored – and had to do a bit of covering for Walker. But he got in the way of Sancho and Sterling, when they were on the right. You can’t tell me that Grealish wouldn’t have produced more and I mean, surely Phillips and Rice can cover for Walker. But then in place of Sterling would be better, maybe he has to move to United or City.
Ukraine, for how bad they were, had chances. Pickford again had to be at his best, though it got a bit worrying when he had one of his moments. Miskicking the ball, out of his area, he seemed to get all ADHD twitchy after. Hopefully it’s out of his system now.
So Denmark in the semi-final, after they got through their side of the draw, which was as equally easy as England’s – I mean the Welsh for a start. This ain’t their first rodeo either, of course having reached the semis in ’84 when they’d stopped England getting to the finals with their first victory over England, in Bobby Robson’s first campaign. And then winning it in ’92 when the pair opened their tournament with a nil nil draw. Denmark getting out of the group, while Graham Taylor’s turnips flew home. So it’s three apiece.
All the talk of Southgate being the second greatest England manager by being the first since Sir Alf to reach semi-finals. Well, it ain’t hard to top the likes of Taylor, it’s a low bar. The only real competent ones didn’t even get a second tournament.
That first victory in ’83, came in the ninth game between the pair – one draw, the first ever game, and eight England victories. Since then England have won six, lost three, with three draws. Denmark only winning one competitive match, the last one, a one nil victory at Wembley, last October in the Nations League.
That victory came by a Christian Eriksen penalty. And well, Denmark have been riding on the wave of emotion from that opening group fixture, when Eriksen collapsed during the Finland game with cardiac failure.
Will it be enough to get them past an England side ride on the wave of emotion from a nation? It’s by far England’s best chance of a final, since ’66. You can’t say Denmark, for all they’ve done after losing their first two games, are in the same league as the German sides of ’90 and ’96, or the Croatian side that stopped Southgate’s team at the last World Cup. Probably being away from England in Italy did England a favour to dampen the chance of getting caught up in the hype. Will they think they just have to turn up against the Danes at Wembley?
Because they still haven’t performed the way the pundits would have you believe. It’s been there in patches, it’s their if they do it right. Unfortunately they do it wrong for so much of games, one day they’re gonna get caught out.
You’d want Spain in the final. Italy’s defence and attack look far better than a team that even they’ve scored 5 in two games, look even more pass happy boring than England. Spinazzola versus Walker would have been something if the former hadn’t done his Achilles. But who would Spain or Italy want…