MARTIN SAMUEL: Why is every team ‘useless’ after England beat them? It is time to stop diminishing this group’s achievement by treating every opponent with enormous disrespect
- England have impressed at Euro 2020 but detractors have dismissed opponents
- Germany cannot only be ‘useless’ once they are beaten by the Three Lions
- If England win it seems to be down to opposition, rather than their own quality
Makes you wonder why we made so much fuss about playing Germany, now they’ve turned out to be useless.
Everyone’s useless once England have beaten them. Croatia are useless, too, apparently. World Cup finalists in 2018, but useless once England overcame them this summer.
There is a certain type of football aficionado that always surfaces at this point in any competition. Doom-laden, grudgeful, negative, wrong.
And to these people, England never beat a good team. England cannot win, unless they do win. And if they do win, it’s always the work of the opposition.
England’s run at Euro 2020 is being dismissed by some who are disrespecting the opposition
It was the same in 1996. England 4 Holland 1. The worst Holland team in living memory. Riven with internal strife — much like France were at this tournament. Yet when Switzerland eliminated France on penalties, nobody decried that achievement on the grounds of divisions in the camp.
The Holland team who England defeated in 1996 had knocked England out of the World Cup qualifiers little more than two years earlier and were only removed from that tournament at the quarter-final stage, 3-2, by the eventual winners, Brazil.
In the 1998 edition they lost the semi-final on penalties, also to Brazil, having defeated Argentina in the quarter-finals. Yet, between, when England outplayed them: useless.
Terry Venables used to wonder why, whenever England defeated a leading team in a friendly, it was always because the match wasn’t important and the opposition didn’t try, but the same excuse was never advanced for England in defeat.
With knee-jerk social media reactions increasingly cheapening public discourse, this malaise has now spread to competitive matches. Here’s a cross-section of opinion from Sportsmail’s website. ‘Still not played a top side… the worst German team since 1962… easy route… worst German team in history… AFC Wimbledon would have made the semis… we haven’t beaten anyone ranked above us…’
And, yes, there are a lot of people who know nothing about football. It’s a bit hard to beat the teams ranked above you when two, Belgium and France, are already out and the other one is Brazil and this is the European Championship.
As for Germany in 1962, they had a 100 per cent record in qualifying then topped a World Cup group that included Italy and lost in the quarter-finals to a Yugoslavian goal scored five minutes from time. Then again, the current Germany team — the worst in history, remember — put four past Portugal and their starting XI against England included the winners of 36 Bundesliga titles, five World Cups, 13 Champions League titles, eight UEFA Super League titles, 11 Club World Cups, two La Liga titles and the Europa League.
It’s pointless detailing the domestic cup competitions because we wouldn’t have room on the page but Thomas Muller alone has 12 — and a World Cup Golden Boot. So those other Germany teams must have been pretty good, if this is the nadir.
It is foolish to describe Germany as ‘useless’ only once they have been beaten by England
Given that England had not beaten Germany or Portugal in a tournament knockout game since 1966, or France in a tournament since 1982, and that the route to the final looked to pit Gareth Southgate’s players against one of those three opponents in the last-16, what was par for England at this tournament? Here’s a clue. It wasn’t the semi-finals.
If England had performed to precedent in this competition, they would have been out a week ago. Only a fool thinks this is an easy route for a country that has this century lost to Croatia, Iceland, Romania and Uruguay. Weren’t they easy routes, too, then? The truth is, England haven’t got such a storied record that any path can be taken lightly. Indeed, the whole definition of ease has been rewritten in recent decades.
Belgium lost to Wales, Brazil to Belgium, South Korea dispatched Italy and Spain. Only a patronising fool looks at Denmark and thinks plain sailing on Wednesday.
In their desperation to decry the advancement under Southgate — possibly because they cannot admit they were wrong about him — some are treating England’s opponents with enormous disrespect.
Southgate is the first England manager in 53 years to make the last four of consecutive major tournaments. The previous one was Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966 and 1968.
And how did England reach those tournaments? In 1966, they qualified as hosts, and in 1968 they progressed by winning a group combining the 1966-67 and 1967-68 Home International Championship. Scotland won and drew with England, but blew it by losing in Belfast. England then beat Spain in the quarter-finals, which in those days were played across two legs, home and away.
Teams like Ukraine are being treated with enormous disrespect whenever they face England
So all roads to success have their moments of ease and of difficulty. The last winners of the European Championship, Portugal, played Croatia, Poland and Wales in the knockout rounds, having come third in their group behind Hungary and Iceland.
They didn’t win a match in 90 minutes until the semi-finals. Tournament football is not a beauty contest. It is about more than simple talent.
Southgate’s England have demonstrated resilience and spirit, and each opponent has provided a test in its own way. Comfort against Ukraine should not be confused with ease.
The last two seasons have seen England’s quarter-final opponents defeat Portugal, Spain and Switzerland and draw with France in Paris.
Very little comes without strife and Wednesday’s semi-final certainly won’t. Nobody thinks Denmark are useless right now, but watch the miseries spout if England win.
CAPTURED HIM BEAUTIFULLY
Lovely tribute to Martin Peters at Kensington Palace. Although God knows why he’s wearing earrings.
KANE’S ONLY ROUTE OUT OF SPURS WILL COST HIM HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FANS
Looking back, it seems almost charming, the naivety that led Harry Kane to think he could negotiate a way out of Tottenham before the European Championship.
With the club adamant they will not sell, this may be the most drawn-out transfer saga of the summer.
Tottenham’s previous form always invites the suspicion that blunt refusal is more a negotiating tactic than a firm stance and Kane will be required to publicly agitate — and Manchester City go way beyond their initial offer — if he is to get his move. His relationship with the supporters will not be left intact, you can be sure of that.
Kristoffer Fons, a Denmark supporter, took a rainbow flag to his country’s match against Czech Republic in Baku, to support gay rights. A steward confiscated it. UEFA are looking into the incident.
Denmark’s minister for equality, Peter Hummelgaard, is involved and so are the Danish Football Association and the national team’s fans’ group.
‘Baku is a place where human rights are not really a thing,’ said Fons.
Indeed. All the more reason, then, not to keep scheduling major football matches there.
It will be interesting now to see UEFA’s stance. Do they ignore this and keep taking all the lovely oil and gas money; or do they make it plain that they want Azerbaijan’s wealth but not its reactionary politics? Couldn’t they just be a little less Azerbaijani? Neither’s a good look for UEFA, really.
Two Denmark supporters were confronted by security for holding a rainbow flag (pictured)
Brazil always receive loyalty from their players.
It is amazing the lengths they will go to, reporting for even the most inconsequential friendly matches in far corners of the world. So Richarlison’s fight to be released by Everton to play in the Olympics this summer should not surprise.
Rafa Benitez’s acquiescence, however, may not be such a positive sign. It could be that he sees Richarlison as crucial and does not want to begin their relationship with harmful confrontation. Equally, maybe Richarlison isn’t a big part of his plans.
Benitez needs all the help he can get winning over Everton’s supporters. Ominous that he doesn’t feel he needs Richarlison from the start.
REAL INJURIES LEAVE YOU GENUINELY IMMOBILE
Ciro Immobile’s recovery from writhing on the ground feigning agony, to springing to his feet and celebrating the goal Italy scored without him against Belgium, was put into even sharper relief by the genuine injury to Leonardo Spinazzola.
Unlike Immobile, the full back simply stopped playing. Stood upright, but gingerly on one leg and immediately signalled to the bench his race was run. It was a team-mate who helped lay him on the pitch awaiting the stretcher.
Spinazzola ruptured an achilles tendon, a serious injury that will keep him out for months. Maybe the gravity of any injury is inversely proportionate to the degree of theatrical writhing. Referees take note.
Luke Shaw is the latest name being used to rewrite history around Jose Mourinho. How can he have missed this fabulously gifted left back, it is asked. Mo Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, you know how it goes from here.
Yet when Mourinho was with Manchester United, few advocated Shaw’s case based on performance. Without doubt some of Mourinho’s treatment seemed unnecessarily harsh and he singled out Shaw mercilessly, but he was less fit then than he is now, and undoubtedly less effective. Maybe Mourinho saw the player Shaw could be, and was frustrated.
Whatever the issue, like De Bruyne and Salah, the outstanding player we are watching now bore no relation to the one in Mourinho’s squad. Mourinho’s critics will always blame him — but it might be down to the player, too.
Luke Shaw (left) is the latest in a long line of stars to prove Jose Mourinho’s judgement wrong
Ultimately, it was a game too far for Switzerland. More than 12,000 miles travelled, reduced to 10 men, they crumbled in the quarter-final shootout with Spain.
What have the four European Championship semi-finalists got in common? They all began the tournament with three home games, at the same venue. Still think miles travelled aren’t important?
Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and left Detroit declaring: ‘I hate golf.’
He’s not always the most popular figure, but this might endear him to the amateur community. Who hasn’t shared that sentiment, coming off the 18th?
If it is all about Christian Eriksen, as is being suggested, who were Denmark doing it for on October 14 last year, when they defeated England at Wembley in the Nations League?
England’s team that night had seven players likely to start Wednesday’s semi-final and, while Harry Maguire was sent off after 31 minutes, it was a poor performance even before that calamity.
It would be underestimating Denmark hugely to believe Kasper Hjulmand’s players are merely surfing a wave of emotion. One imagines Southgate will take a lot more from previous encounters than sentimental presumptions.
Denmark have earned their semi-final spot and will be really tough opponents for England
It cannot be that every time a player misses a big game, the system is wrong.
Granit Xhaka picked up a booking in Switzerland’s final group win over Turkey and was then booked in the second-round match against France. So, consecutive matches.
It is hard to imagine a disciplinary system worth having that would have made him available for the quarter-final against Spain.
It is not as if he was a first-time offender, either. Xhaka was booked in consecutive games for Arsenal three times last season, including a booking and a sending-off against Tottenham and Burnley in December. The season before he was booked five times in six matches between January 18 and February 20. In 2018-19, he was booked in consecutive matches on five occasions, including spells of four bookings in five games, four bookings in six games and three bookings in five games.
Live and don’t learn would appear to be the mantra here.
As Gareth Southgate pointed out, a one-match suspension after two bookings across five matches is not particularly draconian.
The amnesty after the quarter-finals protects players from missing the final, unless sent off, and even that puts the risk-reward balance in jeopardy. A team defending a 1-0 lead can pretty much break up the game with persistent fouls as long as no one goes too far.
Granit Xhaka (middle) missed Switzerland’s match with Spain as he picked up two bookings
Occasionally, usually when New Zealand can’t find their range, it is suggested cutting penalty points in rugby union from three.
When Jonny Wilkinson was at his peak, some geniuses in the southern hemisphere even advocated bringing it down to one. And, at a stroke, all creativity would be gone. The reason an inferior team cannot destroy the game as a tactic is because three points keep the scoreboard ticking over almost as effectively as the odd try.
Yellow card suspensions perform a similar service in football tournaments. If Xhaka plays as he did with the threat of a ban on him, what would he get up to if none existed?
Nick Kyrgios talked his usual good game going into Wimbledon.
‘I’m still one of the only players who can make it difficult for Djokovic,’ he boasted. ‘It’s crazy I’ve played just a couple of tournaments in the past two years and people only want one match: Kyrgios v Djokovic.’
Kyrgios then retired hurt in round three. Tennis cannot be blithely picked up and put down without physical toll.
Perhaps one of those most hoping for that Kyrgios-Djokovic pairing was Novak Djokovic.
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