In Portugal in the summer of 2004, the football world was stunned as minnows Greece lifted the European Championship trophy. Having adopted a similar style of play, can England follow in Greek footsteps eight years on?
When they won the Euros, Greece were viewed only slightly higher than the poor outfit they are now. Nothing was expected of them, just as nothing is expected of England now. Yet Greece managed to fight their way to glory with exemplar organisation, discipline and determination.
On their way to the final, Greece beat Portugal, drew with Spain and lost to Russia; finishing second in a very tough group. They then defeated France and the Czech Republic, all before overcoming the hosts again in the final.
Purists slated Greece for their ‘negative’ football. But, as Greece proved then and as Chelsea have done so since, negative football can bring the most positive results.
England’s display in their 1-1 draw with France on Monday evening was certainly a negative one, but it did bring a positive: a point. Before the game, England captain Steven Gerrard said in an interview with ITV that he would take a point against our neighbours across the Channel, and few people would have said otherwise. A draw really was a good result for England.
England were, predictably, well organised. The lapse in concentration that allowed Samir Nasri to equalise for Les Bleus was caused by a rare display of poor positional sense by Gerrard. The Liverpool playmaker sat too deep in England’s goal area, giving Nasri space to shoot, and the Man City midfielder took full advantage with a calculated finish past club colleague Joe Hart.
France had seven shots on target to England’s one, which was scored by Joleon Lescott, so creativity is certainly an issue. But it is not the main one.
Greece were uncreative in 2004 but managed to win four out of six matches by a single goal, one of those being the final. They did so by shutting down the opposition’s attacking options and taking the at least one of the few chances they managed to create.
England only managed to reduce France – not the best side at Euro 2012 – to seven shots on target. That is quite a large amount, and France also missed the target with two other chances.
So, for any progress to be made, Roy Hodgson’s men need to be even more organised in defence and midfield. Allowing so many shots on goal could see England humbled by the better sides in the tournament, such as Germany, Spain and, to a lesser extent, Russia.
Besides, England’s creativity should receive a huge boost when Wayne Rooney returns from his three-match ban against Ukraine on Tuesday night. His ability to link midfield and attack could provide the missing ingredient in Roy Hodgson’s recipe for success. Defeat against Sweden on Friday night could, however, make Rooney’s debut at Euro 2012 also his only game there.
Due to the unpredictable nature of this tournament, it is impossible to predict who England could be playing in the quarter-finals should they progress beyond the group stage. Not only is it difficult to say if England will get another point from Sweden or Ukraine, but the final standings from Group C – which will provide the opponents for Group D – are almost equally hard predict. We only know the Republic of Ireland won’t be going any further after their game against Italy on Monday. England could find themselves up against Italy too, but they may also play Croatia or Spain.
The prospective opponents should not be the concern for England, though. Greece managed to beat some of the best teams at the tournament in 2004. They did so by sticking rigidly to their gameplan and working very hard as a team.
If England can replicate the same levels of determination and concentration as Greece, they could go all the way. It will not be pretty, not until the trophy is being lifted anyway.
Failure to conduct themselves as a group will see England fail yet again, but that is what the nation has come to expect.