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A good friend of mine and I used to be a big fans of watching the national team.

One of the first tournaments I watched was Euro 96, and that is the England team, full of characters and passion, that I remember so fondly.

Gazza's famous 'Dentist Chair' celebration at Euro 96 with Shearer, Redknapp and Steve McManaman

Gazza’s famous ‘Dentist Chair’ celebration at Euro 96

My friend and I have been very lucky to go to several games; I was at the first game at the new Wembley against Brazil, but also had the misfortune of seeing the majority of the home games under Steve McClaren and some of the early Fabio Capello games. Enough to put anyone off, ey?

I have not been watching England any where near as long as some fans, but my experiences have taught me a few glaringly obvious things.

•  We are rubbish at penalties.
•  Our players are not as good as we think they are.
•  We are a quarter-final team.

Steve McClaren: 'The wally with the brolly' during defeat at Wembley v Croatia

Steve McClaren: ‘The wally with the brolly’ during defeat at Wembley v Croatia

The last two games have been really positive, they were always going to be exciting fielding 3 strikers and an exciting young wild card in the starting 11. Roy Hodgson has built a strong and balanced team, there are some exciting prospects (Ravel Morrison for one), some youngsters who are already established but still hungry (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley) and some players who have won the lot for their clubs and are desperate to achieve at international level (Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard and Wayne Rooney).

Here are my observations from the last week, from back to front

Joe Hart was solid, Roy Hodgson was right to choose him.

Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill coped admirably against Robert Lewandowski and Stevan Jovetic, but can they form a dominant centre back partnership that we associate with England teams of the past? Rio and John Terry? Sol Campbell and Rio? Adams and Southgate? Jagielka and Cahill don’t yet strike the same fear into strikers as the other recent partnerships would have.

Gerrard and Michael Carrick looked really comfortable playing in a deep midfield position. Gerrard’s goal was brilliant. My one criticism would be that they (Gerrard in particular) played it out left to Leighton Baines at almost every opportunity. It worked well against Montenegro, but when Ashley Cole is back in the team they wont have this creative outlet. Baines will have the opposite problem to Andros Townsend, he will struggle to have an offensive impact on the game when he comes up against attacking fullbacks such as Dani Alves of Brazil, who will pin Baines back in his own half.

Roy Hodgson and Andros Townsend v Poland

Roy Hodgson and Andros Townsend v Poland

Aside from highlights on Match of the Day, I think this was the first time I have seen Townsend play a full match. He played brilliantly in both games, but beyond knocking the ball past an Eastern European fullback and doing him for pace before cutting in and taking a pop-shot, I didn’t see much of his all-round game. It will be hugely entertaining and really effective against most teams of a certain level, and even some top class teams such as Brazil and Argentina, but against technically and defensively sound teams such as Germany and Italy he will struggle.

Welbeck was an unpredictable wild card on the left, he linked really well with Rooney also. I don’t think Welbeck will play on the left of midfield when everyone is fit, but I can certainly see him playing on that side of a front three.

The manager

Roy was brave when he needed to be and made an uncharacteristic balls out attacking selection. The team is better now than it was in the early days of his tenure.

Final thoughts

There is lots to be optimistic about, the squad are well balanced and will get tighter with each game, but there is a lot of work before the World Cup.

Roy Hodgson is a cup competition manager. He has reached 2 European cup finals, with Inter and Fulham. To further emphasise this point, England were a shoot out away from progressing to the semi finals of the last competition, going out to the eventual finalists Italy.

The media, as they always do, will undoubtedly try their best to throw England’s preparation off track by blowing a story out of proportion. But lets not let that get us down. As I said at the top of the post, realistically we are a quarter-final team. We all know that, and we know we are not going to win the World Cup.

So lets just enjoy the ride and get behind the team… and who knows maybe this tournament we will win a penalty shoot-out.

Post written by The Football’s Coming Homepage
Blog: thefootballscominghomepage.wordpress.com, Twitter: @TFCHP

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