Monday, 25 June 2012

Weep for England

So we weep for England.

Once again we were beaten on penalties in a quarter-final. It is our lot.

But let us not disguise the fact that it would have been an absolute travesty of Chelsea-like proportions for England to have sneaked past Italy to the semi-finals. Italy totally dominated the whole of the second-half and extra-time, but just couldn't turn their dominance into a goal. England, however, barely got into Italy's half in that time.

Yet there is some pride in England's performance in the tournament. It does seem to show a new realism about England's limitations. We are simply not good enough to compete with the top nations in World football, of which most are in these European Championships. Top eight (i.e. quarter-finals) is the best we should realistically expect.

My worry is that the fact that Roy Hodgson has done pretty well with a weak and threadbare squad may blind people to the dearth of English talent and the trends that continue to sweep English players aside in our own Premier League.

With few English owners and English managers in the English Premier League, where is the concern for English players and the English national team? It isn't there.

We've got years of this international misery to come, and it will get worse.

As a final point: let's finally lay to rest this myth that there are any World-class English players. There are none.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

All these officials - and they still get it wrong!

Well, good for England. They beat Ukraine and won the Group!

It wasn't entirely convincing, but not many teams are convincing all the way through a tournament. Quarter-final opponents Italy, for example, have been particularly adept over the years at sneaking through the group phase without, in some cases, even winning a game!

But England will have to get better to stand a chance of progressing in this tournament.

England have played Italy only twice before in tournament matches and, strangely enough, they have both been IN Italy. The first was in 1980 in the European Championship when they lost 1-0 in Turin. The second time was in the third and fourth place play-off match of Italia '90 when Italy won 2-1 in Bari.

Going back to the Ukraine v England match and it is astonishing that we still have to suffer from goals not being given when the ball is over the line. This time luck favoured England as John Terry's clearance was of a ball that had crossed the line. The fourth (fifth or sixth or seventh?) official was standing less than ten yards away, but failed to see the ball had crossed the line (or, at least, failed to signal it).

WHAT DO THESE OFFICIALS DO? No one at the BBC or ITV seem to know and surely they would have found out by now. And why do they patrol the goal line on the same side of the pitch as the assistant referee (linesman in old money)? Maybe the goal line official was told NOT to signal for goal line decisions (which would be madness), as that is the assistant referee's decision, but the latter's view would be obscured by the former! (At least it would have been if the assistant referee had been able to keep up with play - he was five yards short!)

In addition, this same assistant referee missed a blatant offisde in the build-up to the phantom "goal", which would have avoided all this goal line fiasco. (I note that a furious Oleg Blokhin didn't complain about that decision not being given.)

Come on, even without goal-line technology, surely the now huge number of officials can get key decisions right.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Nervous about England's chances

Am I alone in being a little nervous about England's chances this evening?

They 'only' need a draw against Ukraine to progress to the quarter-finals and everyone seems to think it'll be a bit of a breeze.

I don't.

  • We are AWAY to Ukraine in what appears to be the hottest venue (at least it has been before).
  • Ukraine MUST WIN to progress themselves.
  • England drew unconvincingly with France.
  • England did beat Sweden - but that wasn't convincing either.
No, I don't want to be a pessimist, but getting knocked out of the Euros is such a common occurrence for England, that I'm always amazed at the optimism that usually abounds. This time round - at least, before the tournament - no one gave England a chance - even in England!

But of course it only takes one win for England to become world-beaters in so many eyes. And "we've got Wayne Rooney back". He might just upset such a delicate balance, but let's hope not; let's hope he shines.

England are no world- (or even Euro-) beaters for me. They're not the weakest team in the tournament, but are they really one of the top eight (i.e. worth of a quarter-final spot)? No, Ukraine might be one of the best eight either, but they'll quietly fancy their chances.

Beware the cauldron-like atmosphere that is bound to greet England's players this evening. Have they got the right stuff to progress?

We shall see.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Table ordering system at Euro2012 is over-complicated

I'm delighted to say that Euro 2012 has so far risen above expectations. There have been some interesting and some exciting games, and very few have been boring. No nil-nil draw yet either! Excellent.

However, there are always one or two things to gripe about (of course!).

As we half-way through the final round of group matches, it has come to light the extraordinarily stupid way of determining the order of teams in the groups. The number of points is the key way to order the teams and, thankfully, that is still the main way (but, as we see the way order is determined after that, we cannot be sure that UEFA will always retain points as the key method!).

If teams are level on points we go through this ridiculous ordering system:

  1. head-to-head results
  2. if three countries are level, goal difference from games between them
  3. if three countries are level, goals scored in games between them
  4. goal difference from all group games
  5. goals scored in all group games
  6. UEFA coefficient rankings
  7. fair play ratings from the finals
  8. drawing of lots.
All this head-to-head nonsense unnecessarily complicates the picture and means that you can't look at a league table and no who will qualify - you have to know all the results too. What is wrong with goal differences, then goals scored? This is supposed to be a LEAGUE system; i.e. it is results over the whole league that should count. By pinning so much on  head-to-head results, they're turning the league into a knock-out.

In other words, ignore numbers 1, 2 and 3.

In this more sensible method, Group One's qualifiers would have been Czech Republic and Russia (rather than Greece).

But there's no hope. Why keep something simple if you can over-complicate it?

Friday, 8 June 2012

Grass Roots Football Part 2

From a contributor:

I read and listen too many of the debates about the Grass Roots football transformation in England lead by the FA. As a youth team coach (volunteer) like so many other willing parents it all sounds wonderful and I’m all for it.

However, I find it so frustrating that The FA, the local County FA’s and the local Leagues don’t seem to be completing the circle themselves.

My own under 12 team have had a fantastic season, playing some really good passing football and developing their skills along the way. I know and agree that it isn’t all about winning but they reached their first ever cup final and were delighted... BUT their day was ruined because the local league insists on playing it on a full size senior pitch with full size goals. Even worse the pitch was awful, like a plough field, only worse! It was the ground on a Ryman League team and goodness knows what kind of horrid kick and rush football they have to play on it. Subsequently the match that followed was by far the worst of the season (for both teams), which ended up in a poor 1-1 draw, decided on penalties (which we won, just so you don’t think this is about sour grapes). Neither team played to their usual level and this was solely down to the size and extremely poor quality of the pitch provided.

We and the team we played in the final both benefit from having smaller junior size pitch with junior size goals (21’x7’ feet rather than 24’x8’) and both of us would have been happy to flip a coin and play it at either of our own grounds – but “oh no, we can’t do that” says the league, it has to be at a neutral ground. Obviously our massive home crowd of a dozen or so parents would be too much of an advantage over the opposition!!

It is just so unimaginably stupid that a local league affiliated to the local County FA which is subsequently responsible to The FA itself who are driving these changes can be so stubbornly ridiculous.

I applaud The FA’s drive and commitment to changes in junior and youth football, particularly bridging the gap between 7 aside and 11 aside with the 9v9 format, which my own team has unfortunately missed out on. But, please get your own act together first and INSIST that local County FA’s INSIST that local Leagues play cup semi-finals and finals that they organise on neutral grounds on appropriately size pitches with appropriately sized goals – surely this isn’t too much to ask!?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Negativity beckons in Euro 2012

So we come to Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. I never was convinced of the validity of these two countries as a joint venue, and the stories we hear as we approach the tournament are not encouraging. Blimey - if it's enough to put England fans off travelling, then things must be bad! Let us hope that the tournament passes off without any major hitches.

On the field I have a feeling it's going to be a negative tournament. The trouble is that success can be achieved by negativity - you don't actually have to win or seek to win football matches to win football tournaments. Chelsea have proved that recently in the Champions League and Greece have proved it before in Euro 2004.

I know there's more than one way to win a football match, but we must do away with the odious penalty shoot-out and think of a better way to encourage teams to actually score goals - that is meant to be the object of the game after all. I have always advocated taking a player off each team every five minutes during extra time, and just play on till someone scores.

The old Golden Goal didn't really work - and it didn't work because there was still the back-up of a penalty shoot-out. Get rid of it! If you take a player off from each team during extra time and they know they MUST SCORE to win, then a goal will come. It will have to!

I can see teams trying to stifle the teams that want to attack and, having seen Barcelona fail this season, lesser teams will be encouraged to snuff the light out of the more enterprising teams.

Sadly, England fall into the "lesser team" category (they have done for years, but it seems that everyone has finally realised it htis tiem round!), so don't expect many goals in England's games. I could yet end up hoping against hope that they can win a penalty shoot-out!