The more things change, the more they stay the same. England may have endured the misery of yet another penalty shoot out failure, but it could have been so much worse. Had Italy shown more composure and cutting edge in front of goal, the end result may have resembled England’s 4-1 drubbing against Germany at the last World Cup.
Despite a bright start, England soon ceded control to the Azzurri, who ended the match with 68% of possession, 469 more passes and 28 more attempts at goal. England sacrificed width as they were drawn inside to address Italy’s dominant midfield diamond, which allowed their full backs to work the flanks and increase pressure. Wayne Rooney provided a negligent performance, offering nothing going forward and allowing Andrea Pirlo yards of space throughout the contest. Welbeck was withdrawn early in the second half, but it was Rooney that deserved to be benched, Welbeck was at least a willing runner and performed admirably in all four games.
Despite their tame elimination, England impressed in spells during their group games and can take plenty of positives from the European Championships. The likes of Welbeck, Joe Hart, Andy Carroll and Alex Oxlade-Chaberlain will all benefit from competing in an international tournament, while Phil Jones, Martin Kelly and Jack Butland will learn from the experience, despite not featuring. England were hit hard by withdrawals and the likes of Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Kyle Walker were sorely missed, but Jack Wilshere was the absentee that could have made a real difference in Roy Hodgson’s side.
Now absent for a full calendar year, Wilshere has been sidelined with an ankle stress fracture and is currently recovering from knee surgery, he is expected to return for pre-season training next month. If he makes a full recovery and manages to recapture the form he demonstrated prior to his fitness concerns, he will revitalise the fortunes of both England and Arsenal.
Having ended the 2010-11 season as Arsenal’s Player of the Year, the PFA Young Player of the Year and made the PFA Team of the Season, Wilshere had the world at his feet at just 19, with designs on making a significant impression at the European Championships. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker may have formed an impressive partnership in his absence, but Wilshere is more dynamic and disciplined. Crucially, he can also keep possession and pick a pass, England’s inherent midfield weakness.
Fabio Capello looked set to build his England team around Wilshere, employing Scott Parker as a protective shield and set to pair him with either Gerrard or Frank Lampard, the system was designed to maximise his influence and impact. It is safe to assume that Pirlo would not have enjoyed so much freedom to dictate play had Wilshere been tasked with restricting his influence.
The nature of England’s defeat is likely to result in a clamour for them to unearth their own Andrea Pirlo, but England will never emulate Italy, they instead need to make the most of their own strengths by establishing an ethos of their own. The hard work begins now for Hodgson, Wilshere, Hart, Walker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck and Rooney are the future and provide a strong core, they now need to be fashioned in to a cohesive, fully-functioning whole.
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