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Saturday, June 30, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Song remains the same for England


LONDON — Rio de Janeiro, June 28, 2014:

Christopher Davies

England sensationally conceded defeat to Germany after the teams drew 0-0 after extra time in the World Cup quarterfinals. On the orders of manager Roy Hodgson the England players walked off the pitch, refusing to take part in the penalty shootout.

"What's the point?" said Hodgson, who then answered his own question. "We always lose. Why should I put the players through more heartache and humiliation? Why should we add to the list of England players who have missed penalties? Can someone hand me a sponsored towel to throw in?"

England has lost six of its last seven shootouts in international tournaments, the most recent to Italy at Euro 2012, and Hodgson said: "The players are spot-on, excuse the pun, in training. Unfortunately, penalties in training don't count. I wish they did."

When Germany coach Joachim Loew had finished, laughing he said: "Maybe England should ask FIFA for opponents to take penalties with their weaker foot. Or maybe blindfold the opposing goalkeeper."

* * *

IT'S FUNNY but it isn't. Death by penalty shootout is becoming England's trademark way of exiting the World Cup and European Championship.

England was a successful penalty kick away from reaching the semifinals of Euro 2012, the first time it would have gone that far in the competition on foreign soil. Had that happened, whatever the outcome in the final, Roy's boys would have returned home as heroes.

While not disgraced in Poland and Ukraine, there was a boring inevitably about England which is football's Groundhog Day. It came home from yet another finals undefeated, having lost on penalties. It is what England does. The mental fragility is handed down from generation to generation.

It is not so much the disappointment England fans are fed up with, it's the misplaced hope. England is one of Europe's top eight nations, but a long way from breaking into the elite of the top four.

England has never beaten a major football nation in tournament football away from home in the knockout stages. As the next World Cup is in Brazil, England's fate in South America will probably end in the traditional manner. Somewhere in the Premier League is a player who will miss a penalty in two years.

In the last 10 tournament finals England has played 42 games. Only four times has England been knocked out after losing a match, on six occasions its failure from the penalty spot has caused its exit. In 1990 and 1996 it was the Germans; in 1998, Argentina; in 2004 and 2006, Portugal; and this time, Italy. When it comes to penalties, nobody does it worse.

* * *

ROY HODGSON escaped the "For Hodg's sake Go" headlines, the manager impressing with the way he organized the side, generating the sort of team spirit noticeably absent under Fabio Capello. His team selections and substitutions were generally good and he handled the media with style.

It is not the England manager's fault his players, who he inherits from clubs, cannot retain possession of the ball — Andrea Pirlo, Italy's peerless playmaker, made more passes than England's four midfielders who started the game in Kiev.

England has its stereotypical qualities — sweat, commitment, organization and spirit —but is almost allergic to retaining possession and passing with accuracy.

It does not have a player like Pirlo, Xavi, Andres Iniesta. Mesut Ozil or Moutinho, midfielders on first-name terms with the ball. It lacks the tactical fluidity of Europe's cream, Hodgson's 4-4-2 is football's equivalent of an E-type Jaguar.

Where Hodgson must take a share of the blame is with the dismal form of Wayne Rooney, who must realize that international football is passing him by.

Rooney was suspended for England's first two matches but player and manager could and should have done much more to ensure the striker was ready for action when called upon.

Rooney was not recovering from injury, he was banned yet decided to go to Las Vegas for a pre-Euro holiday. He should have been on a training pitch not in the home of the casino and Hodgson should have put his foot down.

The manager should have given Rooney at least 30 minutes game time in the friendlies against Belgium and Finland to keep him sharp.

Though Rooney scored against Ukraine, he could hardly have missed against the cohosts, and for Italy he was clearly out of condition, lacking the sharpness needed at this level.

Rooney not being fit for a major finals and England losing on penalties. Some things in football never seem to change.

* * *

HAVING SYMPATHY for Joey Barton is something I never thought I would experience.

For his sending off against Manchester City on the last day of the season and the two subsequent violent conduct charges resulting from the same game, the Football Association handed Barton what amounts to a three-month suspension and a £75,000 fine. Few believed the punishment was severe, though it being Barton some would have put him before a firing squad.

This week, Queens Park Rangers stripped Barton of the captaincy (which he should never have been given in the first place) and fined him six weeks' wages, around £480,000.

Barton has effectively been punished twice for the same offenses and his fines now total £550,000 which is an astonishing sum by any standards. According to reports, Rangers wanted to terminate his contract but legally could not.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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