Saturday, September 23, 2023

Sterling work sends England through + Euros round-up

It turned out to be a good day for England at the Euros yesterday.

Bukayo Saka started and was probably the best player on either side during a pretty dull first half. He wasn’t even that good, it’s just everyone else was rank average. Jordan Pickford made a good save from Kai Havertz, and just before the break Harry Kane had a golden opportunity to put England ahead, but he was rusty given this was only about his 3rd touch of the first 45 minutes.

The second half was more of the same. After the excitement of Monday, this felt like some kind of penance we had to endure for enjoying ourselves too much. Jack Grealish came on for Saka, but it was Raheem Sterling who broke the game open, starting and finishing a move to put England ahead with about 15 minutes to go. It’s a bit mad to see the papers this morning go large with pictures of Kane when his goal would never have happened without Sterling’s, and the contribution he made to the game up to that point was basically laughable. He is not the hero.

15 goals in his last 20 internationals makes Sterling England’s most important and effective attacking player by some distance. On the BBC, Kane was referred to more than once as Gareth Southgate’s talisman, as a way of excusing his lack of tangible contribution to England’s play and the scoresheet. It was Sterling’s spark which helped win that game for England, the second goal was a nice cushion, but the hardest part of the job had already been done.

It’s also worth pointing out that Germany had a glorious chance to draw level, but Thomas Muller dragged his shot wide. For a player of that experience and quality, it was an absolute howler:

That was a real let off, and a mistake compounded by England’s second, made by Grealish. I guess Southgate can successfully argue that the result is the main thing, and his approach to the game was reasonable in that it pretty much nullified Germany as an attacking threat. England fans won’t care if it was entertaining for the neutral or not, but for the record, it most certainly was not.

Also, I think this is probably the worst German team/squad I have ever seen, and that’s not to downplay the result for England, just an observation. When you need a goal and – with all due respect to him – you’re bringing on Emre Can to try and save the game, there’s something very wrong. They were so poor, and didn’t deserve to go through. That’s the end of the Joachim Low era, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of offers he has to pick from … and then taste on camera.

The second game of the day was much more entertaining, but heartbreaking for our Swedish friends as they went out in the last seconds of injury time to Ukraine. It had been end to end stuff, Sweden hit the post and the bar, but were reduced to 10 men in extra-time when Danielson was sent off. He got the ball but he was stretching and the end result, as the Ukraine player ran into his studs, was awful. I think he can be unlucky and it also be a red card. Interestingly, there was a similar incident later in the game when a Ukraine player’s momentum took him studs-up into the ribs of an opponent but that didn’t have the element of gruesomeness of a bloke with his leg bent the wrong way so he got away with it.

There have been a few incidents in this tournament which have made me think there should be more room for refereeing discretion. Sometimes players are going to make contact with each other and it’ll look bad but it is entirely accidental. I don’t know if that’s considered enough within what is considered a red card offence or not. When you think about the impact playing with a man advantage gives a team, maybe it’s time to discuss other options. The classic ‘orange card’, leading to a 10 minute sin bin, or something similar, because while there’s a need to acknowledge an offence, it shouldn’t always cost a team so much.

England now face Ukraine in the next round, and I suspect they will be happier about that than playing Sweden who were fairly dominant last night until the red card. With Germany, France, Portugal, the Netherlands all gone, it’s opening up nicely for England. All they need now is some kind of song to sing about how the game which was invented there is returning or some such.

We now have a couple of days without any football before the quarter-finals begin. Hopefully Arsenal can fill the news gap with some transfer market activity, and it’s being reported that a couple of deals are pretty close. However, the language of transfer reporting these days ensures that these things drag on and on (perhaps for social media clout, as the kids might say) as a player ‘edges closer’ to a move and ‘everything is agreed’ except the most important things that have to be agreed between the clubs like, you know, the price and the actual terms of the deal. Trifling things like that.

Right, let’s leave it there for now, we’ll have a Euros/Arsenal round-up podcast for Patreon Members a bit later on.

More on the blog here tomorrow.

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