Many England fans, including myself, have made their feelings clear on England’s group stage performances at this summer’s European Championships. They’re not best-pleased.
Yes, they have been poor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sign of things to come and history, at major international tournaments, proves that.
We tend to remember specific moments of brilliance from tournaments rather than overall performances. Whether it be Eder’s extra-time strike against France at EURO 2016 or Iniesta’s last-gasp winner against The Netherlands in South Africa, we all get caught up in the moment and perhaps forget the story – start to end.
It is easy to forget, but most recent winners of major international tournaments haven’t enjoyed a quick start.
Most recently, France won the World-Cup after memorable displays against the likes of Lionel Messi’s Argentina, in the round-of-16, and against Croatia in the final. Nevertheless, nobody would have predicted that after their lifeless group-stage performances.
They finished on the seven points, the same as England, winning two and drawing the other. The French depended on a harshly awarded penalty and bizarre own-goal to beat Austria 2-1 in their opener. In the second, they narrowly beat Peru 1-0 and in their final game were held to a 0-0 stalemate against Denmark.
Things quickly changed for Didier Deschamps’ side, they picked up the pace and ended up leaving Russia with their second World-Cup.
The same happened just two year prior at EURO 2016, on an even worse scale. Portugal were awful during their group games against the Iceland, Austria and Hungary, drawing all three and only going through as one of the best third placed teams. Fernando Santos is known to be a pragmatic and defensively minded manager, but this was beyond boring, apart from the 3-3 draw with Hungary.
They were that poor that 15/16 teams that have qualified for this years round-of-16 have gone through with a better record than Portugal.
After that start, nobody would bet anything on them going all the way, despite having Cristiano Ronaldo, but they did.
The tournament before that was the 2014 World-Cup in Brazil, it was won by the Germans. Germany actually started of well, they thrashed the Portuguese 4-0, however they did benefit from playing the majority of the game with a man advantage.
Things didn’t carry on like this though, they needed an equaliser, from substitute Miroslav Klose, to get the draw against Ghana and only beat the USA 1-0 in the final game. It even took until the quarter-finals for Joachim Low to find the system, as he was previously persistent in his belief of Philip Lahm in midfield and centre-backs at full-back.
All three tournaments before 2014 were won by the Spanish.
In 2012, Spain’s group stage was average at best. They drew to Italy, beat The Republic of Ireland 4-0 and needed a 88th minute winner to beat Croatia one-nothing. Vincent Del Bosque’s side lacked flair and intensity, something many people associate with them but it wasn’t there in 2012, at least to begin with.
It wasn’t any better at the 2010 World-Cup in South Africa. Spain were abysmal in their opener against Switzerland, losing 1-0. They won their other two games 2-1 against Honduras and Chile – only scoring 8 goals on their way to victory.
EURO 2008 was an exception – Spain won all three games, secured top spot before the final game and scored 8 goals, the same amount as the whole of their 2010 World-Cup journey, in just their three group games. They were very good, and like the other two years won the whole thing.
Italy in the 2006 World-Cup were okay. They confidently beat both Ghana and Czech Republic and only dropped points against the USA after Daniele De Rossi was sent-off.
Greece, winners of EURO 2004, were probably the worst of all. They shocked Portugal in their first game, drew to Spain in their second, before losing their final game against Russia – they squeezed through on goals scored after them and Spain could not be separated on goal difference or head-to-head.
So, the majority of England fans weren’t very impressed with their sides performance this group stage but were they wrong?
Since 2000, only two winning teams have won all three group stage matches in their victorious campaigns – Brazil 2002 and Spain 2008.
Maybe as England fans we should appreciate the positives from the start of the campaign. England haven’t conceded a goal yet and looked very solid defensively, something fans were worried about before the tournament and with the attacking talent Gareth Southgate has, something has to click soon.
There’s plenty to be hopeful for, especially as an England fan.
Just like in Russia three years ago, The Three Lions have an ‘easier’ run to the final and there’s a real possibility they can go all the way despite their lacklustre start and history proves that.