Three thoughts: England casts aside hype to thrive on grit
Three thoughts on England's 1-0 victory against Ukraine, which sent England (first place) and France (second) to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, while Ukraine and Sweden were eliminated:
A key part of the team's allure is its imperfections. England doesn't have the players for a (short) passing game, and it doesn't try to dwell on the ball. A tendency to concede possession rather too frequently has resulted in three backs-to-the-wall performances -- of varying degrees of desperation -- but an uncanny knack to plunder goals from counterattacks, crosses and dead-ball situations compensate for these flaws.
As a result of its almost masochistic setup -- England needs to suffer in order to create the space for the forwards at the end of the pitch -- Hodgson's team has provided plenty of entertainment. Purists won't be impressed, but England supporters raised on a diet of misplaced hype can revel in the doggedness of their players. This team is encapsulating what the football author David Winner ("Those feet") has dubbed "English grace": the ability to overcome technical limitations with pluck, effort and mental strength.
Granted, the situation wasn't quite as clear-cut as in South Africa -- video replays suggested the ball was over the line but couldn't provide 100 percent certainty either -- but that's just another argument in favor of installing an electronic eye that can judge accurately and impartially. Two systems are currently being tested and FIFA has promised to make a decision on the introduction of goal-line technology on July 5 in Zurich. Devic's plight will surely have swayed the last doubters.
Some reports have suggested that this new trend -- the host nations used to do much better, historically -- was indicative of too much pressure being put on teams that don't have to play any competitive football in the two years before the tournament because they had qualified automatically.
But there's perhaps a more banal explanation. In the past, competitions were staged by countries that are traditional football powerhouses. UEFA's and FIFA's political and commercial interests in looking out for the lesser lights, however, have taken the tournaments into countries that wouldn't be there without automatic qualification. Their failure to get out of the group stages shouldn't really be seen as such. They're simply not that good to begin with.