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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

England don't look like potential winners and more Euro 2016 talking points

Plus, is Bale better for Wales than for Real Madrid?

England's Jack Wilshere (centre) stands dejected with team-mates after seeing his side concede their first goal.
England's Jack Wilshere (centre) stands dejected with team-mates after seeing his side concede their first goal.
Image: Owen Humphreys

1. England don’t look like potential winners

THERE WAS A sense of trepidation among England watchers from the outset tonight, owing to the somewhat controversial decision to leave Leicester star Jamie Vardy out of the starting XI.

And the decision to snub Vardy ultimately backfired, as England’s attack lacked the cutting edge that the 29-year-old so frequently provided for the Foxes at club level this season.

Of course, from Roy Hodgson’s viewpoint, you could argue that Vardy hasn’t been outstanding in the warm-up friendlies, while some doubts remain as to whether he would be suited to England’s style of play, perennially coming up against opponents that sit deep and don’t allow him the space to run into, which he so often exploited in the Premier League this year.

Yet, in the absence of Vardy, England’s attack was less than clinical — a superb Eric Dier free-kick aside — with Raheem Sterling in particular showing why he has struggled to get into the Man City side in recent months.

Even with these problems, however, Hodgson’s men were undoubtedly the better team tonight and certainly deserved to win. The fact that they ultimately didn’t, though, will be a big concern.

They faced a Russian central midfield that had just six caps between them and so unsurprisingly looked a little out of their depth, and yet the Three Lions still couldn’t fully capitalise, with Tottenham star Harry Kane uncharacteristically quiet up front.

Moreover, their failure to close out the game against a relatively ordinary Russian side should also raise alarms.

England have the youngest squad in the tournament and this evening it showed, as they couldn’t kill off the game in the manner that the best teams invariably do.

Leading up to the tournament, there has been talk of England as potential winners, but that belief certainly seems fanciful on the basis of this evening’s error-strewn display.

2. Is Bale better for Wales than for Real Madrid?

In many cases over the years, fans have lamented the inability of certain players to replicate their club form on the international stage.

Steven Gerrard is a classic example of someone who seldom looked the same player in an England shirt as he did in a Liverpool one.

Yet, in contrast, if anything Gareth Bale appears an even better player for Wales than he does at Real Madrid.

To be fair to Bale, he has by no means been a disappointment in Spain — his goal tally (19 in 23 matches) has been better than ever in La Liga this season, and he has helped the side win two Champions League titles in the last three seasons.

Yet in the really big games for his club these days, he rarely looks at his dominant best — he is one of many galácticos, and perhaps this factor has a negative impact on his mentality.

For Wales, however, he knows he is the main man — a level of responsibility he seems to thrive on.

Having inspired Chris Coleman’s side to qualification with a number of key goals (he has 20 in 56 appearances in total at international level), the 26-year-old also scored a pivotal free kick as Wales deservedly beat Slovakia 2-1 on Saturday afternoon.

And on his day, Bale can be as good as almost anyone in the world, particularly when he is in a team that revolves around him, as is the case currently.

Therefore, with the rest of the side solid and well-organised earlier as expected, not many teams will relish the prospect of facing the Welsh over the coming weeks.

3. Albania do themselves proud despite loss

There were concerns prior to this tournament that the new 24-team format would inevitably spoil the competition.

Whereas previously 16 teams were allowed entry, many argued that the recent expansion would result in far too many damp squibs and dilute the overall quality of the tournament.

While such points were hard to argue with, so far, Euro 2016 has been a pleasant surprise in terms of the level of football on display.

Albania, currently ranked at 400/1 to win outright, are among the worst sides in the competition if the bookmakers are to be believed. Yet against Switzerland today, they gave a more-than-decent account of themselves, despite losing 1-0.

While they were forced to play the majority of the match with 10 men, they nonetheless adopted a relatively adventurous brand of football and were unlucky not to equalise after missing more than one excellent chance.

Consequently, so far, Euro 2016 viewers have been treated to four immensely watchable games of football — hopefully, it’s a positive sign of things to come.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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