During the game Clive Tyldesey tried to argue that playing well and losing 1-0 is worse than playing badly and losing 6-0. This is obviously untrue, and one of the few times in the night he came across as more of an idiot than Glenn Hoddle (see also: “Justice for the England 11”).
But I take his point (about the result, not that England 11 nonsense). Failing after a good performance does hurt. The way England played during the 1-1 draw with Russia was, for 80 minutes, a joy to behold. The passing was quick, the movement exciting and the chances on a platter. In my 20 years of watching England in major tournaments you can count the number of performances like that on one hand.
And yet it feels hollow. A performance without a result is disappointing, whatever way you look at it.
The pundits on ITV may say that a point will do (which is technically true) but it ironically misses the point. You can say Russia didn’t have any chances and only scored from a lucky header from a long ball (which I don’t think is true), but we played exceptionally well going forward and looked worrying at the back until we threw away a sure-thing.
And make no mistake about it, this was a sure-thing. Forget the reputation, this is a bang-average Russian side missing some of their key players. I suggested to a couple of people before the game that Russia could come bottom of our group, and I saw nothing today that made me think otherwise.
Still, the performance was good. Actually, that’s not fair. Had we won we’d be talking it up as one of our best performances in years.
I think a fair amount of that was due to the tactics. I said just over a week ago how important it was to go back to a formation the players were familiar with and playing players in the correct position. We saw that in action tonight. The movement was fluid and exciting, the interchanges at times breathtaking. If this was any other team than England playing like this you’d be talking them up as contenders, even with the morale-sapping equaliser.
Rose and Walker were sensational going forward, Dier was as sturdy as we’ve come to expect in the anchor position, and Lallana and Sterling worked hard and pulled Russia to shreds.
Even Wayne Rooney played well.
Not as well as Tyldesley and Hoddle would have us believe, of course (highlight: them praising Rooney for his “confidence is his own ability and willingness to play his way out of danger” when he actually dallied on the ball in our own penalty area then hoofed it to a Russian defender) but he did play well. In Jack Wilshere’s never-ending “will he/won’t he” saga against his own muscles, Rooney showed himself as a decent hand in the middle of the park. He may play exactly like I do on FIFA, with every pass extravagant, every misplaced ball met with moaning and giving up, every shot down the keeper’s throat, but he had a good game.
In fact, the whole team did so well that I hope we don’t forget this performance in 5 days time. It gets lost in the narrative on the last World Cup that we were actually pretty damn good in our opener against Italy, but subsequent failures tainted that performance as well.
And as with the Italy game, as exciting as these performances can be they mean nothing without the right result. The bloated nature of the tournament means we’re not at risk of elimination in the way we might have been in previous years, but sitting on a 1-0 with 10 minutes to play with our shoddy defence was going to catch up with us eventually, and it will again.
But still, this is an entertainment industry, and that performance entertained. Let’s hope we can stick with it, remember it, and learn from our mistakes.
Like having Harry Kane taking corners. What is that, a bet?
Click below for links to the reviews of England’s other games in Euro 2016:
This was a special Euro 2016 review. Check back in every Monday for the usual reviews.