England have done well to comfortably progress through the group stages and into the quarter’s of the championships, a solid performance against an in form France side in the opening game led to a 1-1 draw and a good first step in the right direction in the group ladder.
A shaky 30 minutes against Sweden saw Hodgson’s men lose their 1-0 lead to two goals by former Aston Villa legend Olef Mellberg (would love to of seen the odds of him converting twice in one game!), in which they managed to scrape back to a 3-2 win, do it the hard way why don’t you lads! Typical.
The final group game started slow and the first half in all cases was rather boring, however, Rooney delivered on his first game back with a sitter of a header at the far post to put England 1-0 up against the Ukranians. Sweden thankfully completed the job against France in what seemed a comfortable 2-0 win to leave the group for England’s taking.
Overall, despite the odd slip-up which the boys managed to recover from, it was a worthy enough effort by England to qualify and progress into the next stage of the tournament; where it really begins to heat up. The main question now is, are Hodgsons men able to step up to that next gear and really exert in search of European success?
But more importantly, if England are to continue this run, Roy is going to have to keep the top performers in the starting 11 and not make any sudden changes to disrupt this positive “flow” of football that the boys seem to be showing. So, what top 5 individuals have performed well up to this point and have stood out amongst the 23 man-strong squad?
In descending order:
5. Ashley Cole:
The man who makes left back look a doddle, so calm and reassured in everything he commits himself to and has had a fine tournament so far. He is often seen getting in behind Terry and Lescott to block the shots coming in from outside the box as he does so well for Chelsea. (Champs league final made a few vital blocks.) Experience is what Ashley can bring to the table and you can’t help but feel that an England defence looks so much more stable with him involved. Organised and switched on, a 7.5/10 rating for me.
4. Scott Parker:
The old fashioned, “throw yourself around” football player. Technically he may not be one of the most gifted individuals on the pitch but plays perfectly to his role of breaking up play and going into every challenge to win the ball. His “all or nothing” attitude is what earns him his praise and position in the centre of the park for his country. You have to analyse a game closely sometimes to really see Parkers influence but guaranteed the stats will show just what he really does. He comes across as a very modest bloke and is a great role model who wears his countries shirt with pride. Scott has helped free Gerrard up a little more and that influence alone is vital to getting the ball into the opposing teams final third. No nonsense. Same as Ashley, a solid 7.5/10 for me.
3. Joleon Lescott:
The one England player who could be filled with confidence and pride that he duly delivered for his country just 30 minutes into the opening game against France, heading past Hugo Lloris with a fantastic header (after a pinpoint free-kick from Stevie G). Joleon has seemed to convincingly continue his Man City run of form and fill in perfectly at CB, playing in partnership well with JT to provide a great base in which England can start playing their football off. “The first line of Attack starts from Defence” and Lescott holds the ability to play the ball well when not under too much pressure and more than succeeds in his role in keeping his countries goal safe. Bar the defending mishap Vs Sweden where the unmarked Mellberg managed to bag a brace, Lescott has shown a very commanding and determined attitude in controlling the defensive area with JT and looks to be able to continue playing well coming into games in which England face harder opposition. Hopefully he can keep this run of form going and be part of a historical England back 4 who had great success in the Euro 2012 Championships! 8/10
2. Steven Gerrard:
Talk about leading by example, at 32 years old; he looks no way near the end of his career and has shown an insatiable work-rate and drive to succeed in the tournament so far. 3-2 England v Sweden and he puts in an 80 yard sprint to get on the end of a cross in the 85th minute, moments like this are what gets the fans on your side, and I’m certainly one of those fans. Class is permanent as it shows, whipping in some delicious crosses throughout the past 3 games and bagging a couple of well deserved assists. His body language and vocals show how much every game means to him and I would pay compliments to Roy in making such a great decision for the England captain. The engine that Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard provide in the middle of the park is a joy to watch and send out the work-rate standards for the rest of the team to abide by. A Liverpool and England legend, I would like to see anyone disagree with an 8.5/10 rating, if not higher. He certainly possesses the captaincy attributes and fingers crossed he can lead England to success!
The young Man United forward has done his club and country proud thus far, the hunger and fire in his belly is clearly visible on the pitch. He is quick off the mark and subconscious to most people’s eyes; he holds fantastic technique and fluency on the ball. Someone who isn’t afraid to try things out and go at opposition with an attitude of having nothing to lose is what the England team need and this boys got it, he looks to have a cheeky side to him which is helpful if used properly. Danny’s pass completion in the group stages was an impressive 94%, the kid is switched on and obviously shows a clear decisive mind set when on the ball, he can also boast being the first England striker to take a shot on goal in Euro 2012, confident and optimistic. In only 8 caps for England, Welbeck has bagged 2 goals, 1 in a friendly, but more importantly; the equaliser against Sweden in the Group D fixture. What puts Danny Welbeck #1 on my top 5 is simply the confidence and spirit such a young mature man shows in such a massive competition, an inspirational role model to all upcoming youngsters who love football. Knows his position and role within the team very well and fits in like he’s been playing at international level for years, I would like to see anyone disagree with a well-earned 9/10 rating for Mr Welbeck in this tournament so far.
A reassuring fact is that these players in form help to maintain a stable “spine” to the team. The organisation and discipline so far has been tremendous but it’s time to step up to the next gear, Italy will be no push over and England need to utilise any possession they manage to muster against them. If Hodgsons men can continue playing as a team and not have all the limelight on Rooney, they will succeed in beating Italy and progressing into the Semi’s. They seemed to have responded well when playing with “no pressure” on them but the question is, how far can they go without this “pressure” on them? Maybe? Finally?.. I certainly want to see England win a major competition in my lifetime! Come on lads!!
Twitter – @RobeyRober