We saw Germany move as quickly as a Panzer with an oil leak. Brazil, for all their flamboyance, are still waiting for Neymar to actually produce something.
Lionel Messi missed another penalty. Spain couldn’t beat Portugal while a goal ahead, despite a ten-footballer advantage. Yet, people will still point fingers at England.
You know, The Three Lions outfit who just won a game and put in a very decent performance to boot.
Everyone loves poking fun at England and at Gareth Southgate, who, when called a waistcoat-wearing t**t, is quite hard to defend on that front. But one thing he did do well was his game management.
A lot of people get caught up on single-game results, much like the opening paragraph. But it’s largely irrelevant. England get out of groups usually because of good luck in the draws or random acts of sympathy from above. This time, Southgate is building an identity.
While pundits consistently slated Southgate’s men for respecting Tunisia by playing three at the back, they failed to see the bigger picture.
In order to quench the central overloads that every single team tipped to win this competition produce (yes, literally all of them), you must put bodies in central areas. England are getting used to that shape in competitive encounters and a relatively easy group has afforded them that luxury.
This England don’t rely on big names to produce moments of magic, because moments of magic are rare. They rely, for once, on a solid base and the best pure number nine on this planet to win them games. It’s what you saw last night.
People will argue they struggled to overcome Tunisia. Fair enough, but if you dissect the game, Tunisia were happy to sit back and soak up pressure while England had six players in advanced positions compared the eight that Germany and Argentina committed.
England were more efficient in their runs off the ball. Their movement was excellent, and the introduction of Loftus-Cheek gave them energy in the middle of the park.
Jordan Henderson isn’t suited to these types of games, but he will come in handy against the bigger nations when his array of passing comes into play. He’s the ultimate transition player, but he’s rubbish in unchallenged possession.
Also, England are being beaten with a stick that reads ‘you could only score from set pieces’. We didn’t read the memo where those goals didn’t count.
They look superb in the air and that will benefit them hugely. The best teams in the world can defend by keeping the ball. You can’t keep the ball from an opposition corner. This is a major plus.
So, while England look relatively unimpressive yet efficient in the groups, just remember that Southgate is well aware that his path to the quarter-finals is straightforward and that bigger games lie ahead.
Their primary goal threat has netted twice already and bar some odd decision-making, they would have won the game comfortably.
Jamie Vardy will play a part against the bigger sides in the tournament. His Red Bull-fuelled frenzies down the flanks will cause all sorts of problems for the overly-adventurous Kimmich, for the ill-disciplined Marcelo, for an inexperienced Meunier and a Djibril Sidibe who’ll spend most of his time wishing he was a winger.
We expected to be sitting here now laughing at them.
So many times before, the opposite has occurred where they’ve left embarrassed after a late goal has gone in against them. Regardless of the opposition, they probed and found a way to win.
Momentum is a funny thing.
Whether we like it or not, this England side are being whipped into shape for bigger ties that lie ahead and they’re better equipped now than they ever have been.