Back to Kiev and accomdation sorted relatively easily considering it was the Quarter final and we got digs just round the corner from the stadium. With the Swedish fans all gone, Kiev wasn’t so lively as before, although there did seem to be an more English fans than a week ago which was encouraging. On the day of the game we accompanied the LondonEnglandFans on a river boat tour of the Dnipro river – a pleasant enough tour in the sunshine. There didnt seem to be too much in the way of team news flying around before the game so after the riverboat tour we headed straight to get our tickets and then to the fans park for a couple of pre-games beers.
Italian fans were spotted dotted aroudn Kiev but with no difinitive base, seeing as they had spent the group stages in Poland. Englandfans had decided to take over the now redundent ‘Swedish corner’ in the fans park and were doing their best to cover just about everyone in beer whilst dancing around to Madness, Wonderwall and whatever other tunes the DJ was spinning. I’m never sure what to think of this sort of behaviour. I must atmit it is quite a laugh to jump around, be boistourious and be totally covered in beer. But from the outside it doesn’t exactly give Englandfans the best reputation and there always tends to be a minotity in a large group that will take it one step further whilst playing up to their mates / showing off to the wider audience. It only takes one or two people in this type of situation and then it is chairs rather then beer flying around the fan park. It only take one isolated incident for friendly banter with opposing fans to turn into something more aggressive; pushing, shoving or open confrontation.
The knockout stage, what tournament football is all about…
On the whole the mood of the England fans was fairly confident. Everyone knows that Baloteli is a threat but he very much blows hot & cold and quite easily has the ability to get himself sent off with face with the right amount of goading. Looking back, I think the confidence of Englandfans perhaps came from Italian football being somewhat of an unknown quantity in the current era. We dont have Italian football on TV anymore, it has been ridden with scandel over recent years and the big clubs haven’t dominated the Champions League like they did in the early 1990s. Between us, I think we would have struggled to name half of the starting lineup. The likes likes of Gerrard, Rooney, Haart and Terry are often talked about amongst the worlds elite in our media and further afield, but I tend to think the football press is so often so focused on the Premiership (due to its entertainment value) that we overlook other leagues around Europe.
One Scotty Parker, there’s only one Scotty Parket…. One Scotty Paaarrrrker
So to kick-off and England looked good for their money in the first ten minutes, especially when Glen Johnson should have converted after a fluent passing move down the left hand side. However, it was clear that a lot of the fans had underestimated the Italians as they very swiftly started to dominate possession, the play being orchestrated by Pirlo in the deep holding midfield role. From a fans point of view it seemed inconceivable that a manger of Hodgeson’s experience wouldn’t have made ‘doing a job’ of Pirlo one of his utmost priorities in preparation for the game. Starting with a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 as some may see) against an experienced Italian midfield with the likes of Pirlo and Di Rossi is always going to leave Gerrard and the energetic Parker short on legs, especially when England struggle to retain possession. We could only assume it was Rooney, as our deep lying centre-forward, that had been ask to close Pirlo down. Either way, as a team, we just didnt do enough to prevent him time and space on the ball from which he can start to orchestrate a game with his precision passing.
As the half wore on the Italians started to donmate further, both in terms of possession and attempts at goal. This creates a problem in that when your team doesn’t have the ball, you are always chasing the game, expending more energy than your opponents. In the latter stages of the game it gets harder and harder to close your opponents, giving them more time on the ball. It also makes it harder to retain the ball when you do have possession, as the first thing that goes when you are tired is the first touch. Until England learn to hold the ball better and support each other as a unit it will be quarter finals at best for us. At 0-0 it is still anyones game, althoght failing to address Pirlo problem at half time (with subs being make around 65 min mark and no marked change to formation or tatics) meant victory looked increasingly unlikely. The game remained tense until the end, the England defence were resolute, showing passion and determination to hold-out initially until the 90minute mark and then for extra time and penalities. The fans were great throughout – Roy Hodgeson’s barmy arm going throughout.
Penalties: Rooney stepped up first and blasted his spot-kick into the bottom left hand corner – great to see him smash the ball home – would this finally be the time England shake off their penalty jinx? To be fair, I think if England had held on for their first penalty victory since beating Spain in Euro 96′ we would have suffered another embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Germans. It would have also been a thoroughly undeserved victory, the Italians having controlled the game, domination possession and hitting the post twice. The saving grace was that we would be going home from the tournament unbeaten in open play and safe in the knowledge that the players had given a gritty, resolute, team performance. Unlike South Africa, there was a sense of togetherness, the players wanted to play for the team, for the manager and for each other. Lets remember there have been some inexperienced players in this team and we have shown relative strength in depth with the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlin, Defoe and Walcott all looking to make an impact from the bench. When you go out of a tournament, it’s difficult to mask the disappointment, but this time there is relative optimism that we can build this group of players into into potential semi-final contenders for the World Cup in two years. Next stop Rio De Janeiro…