England are currently top of Group E with three wins from three and a third consecutive clean sheet for Joe Hart. Despite racking up points on the board, the narrow 1-0 win in Estonia highlighted how the Three Lions still have a long way to go before anyone can say that they will lift the European Championship trophy in France in 2016.
Wayne Rooney’s curling free kick crept in to beat Sergei Pareiko, giving England all three points in Tallinn, but many sceptics, myself included, remain just that. If it weren’t for the Manchester United captain’s set piece, Estonia would have grabbed themselves a valuable point, and although they were next to harmless up front, defensively they put in a solid shift that the home crowd can be proud of.
England started and ended the first-half well with Rooney missing chances throughout the first forty-five minutes. Firstly missing a glorious chance after being put through by a delicious Jack Wilshere lob, which he volleyed high, before failing to connect with a Leighton Baines cross. He then missed a header after a good cross from Aston Villa Midfielder Fabian Delph. England were unlucky not to be leading at the break.
These events came after a nervy first minute when Blackpool winger Sergei Zenjov could only hit the side-netting after being left with an unsettling amount of room. The first half was by far England’s best, and despite having the lion’s share of possession in the second period – even more so when the hosts went down to ten men – they failed to make a break-through until the 73rd minute. Substitute Raheem Sterling won a free-kick directly outside the box and Rooney curled a shot that keeper Pareiko could only push on to the post and into the net.
It felt as if England were trying to score the ‘perfect goal’ against a side that, on paper, were far inferior to them. However, sides that receive a dismissal generally tend to be even tougher to break down and Estonia showed that perfectly throughout the majority of the second half. There were plenty of good passes and moves unfolding for England, but Roy Hodgson’s men couldn’t make it count in the final third.
When they eventually qualify for the European Championships in just under two years time, better teams will punish them and it could be another disappointing tournament for a team whose expectations, based on the last three tournaments, are relatively low.
Prior to kick-off, there was a lot of debate between fans concerning Arsenal’s Calum Chambers being picked at right-back ahead of Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne. It was a baffling decision as the Saints’ defender has arguably been the most in-form full back in the Premier League so far. Chambers didn’t do badly, but criticism of England’s attacking threat sourced from the full-backs not getting far enough down the wings, with this critique also applying to left-back Leighton Baines, who had an unexpectedly quiet evening.
In relation to Clyne’s spot on the bench, many fans talked of an argument that has been around for years – playing for ‘bigger’ teams will give players a far better chance of breaking through internationally. So the question must be asked, if Clyne played for Arsenal and Chambers for his former club Southampton, would Clyne have started?
The diamond formation was played for the full 90 minutes – something new for England, and the attacking threat in midfield was evident. On another day England could have had three or four. The likes of Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana didn’t overly impress and would have fallen away and struggled against a better side, just as they did in Brazil this summer.
Registering maximum points from the last three games is cause for optimism, yet England will have to be playing a lot better and covert those chances in to goals when they take on Slovenia at Wembley next month – a much tougher opponent than Estonia.
A lot can develop between now and May 2016, but if Roy Hodgson’s men continue to put in below par performances, they might struggle in in France and it could end up being yet another underwhelming England side who struggle to beat teams with more talent than Switzerland, San Marino and Estonia.
How do you think England will perform at Euro 2016? Have your say below.