How to Lose a Win England at Euro 2024


'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown' 

- Shakespeare, Henry IV Part II

England are favourites for a major tournament, probably for the first time since the 1950s or at a pinch the 1970 World Cup.

How to Lose a Win England at Euro 2024.
England beat Serbia but received only lukewarm praise

The Three Lions won their first match at Euro 2024 as expected on Sunday but the murmurs of dissatisfaction with their 1-0 victory over Serbia have been reverberating since then.

Results are all that matter in the end. There are no meaningful prizes in football for artistic impression, possession, passes, shots or any other category except goals. But England as the original football nation always expects more, so much more.

While Gareth Southgate's men were deserved winners in their opening fixture, the nitpicking at home has been relentless. While the Three Lions are not quite in a no-win situation with the media unless they lift the trophy, it does seem somewhat unfair to receive any criticism after a victory.

The complaints centre around why England dropped off after a mightily impressive first half hour in which they bossed the game and clearly intimidated their Yugoslav adversaries. Jude Bellingham, on cue after a golden first season with Real Madrid, had scored early on to silence any doubters that he could cut it on the international stage when it mattered.

With a ubiquitously warm glow about England for once, what then could have gone wrong? 

Having found the Serbian net after 12 minutes, the favourites had the momentum and the confidence  to stamp their presence on the tournament with a goal fest. What a message three or four goals would have sent to their forthcoming adversaries.

And yet, instead of the floodgates opening, the Three Lions slowly closed the lock over the next hour. 

Instead of putting the frighteners on the 23 other teams, England turned down the volume and coasted to the final whistle with a particularly lacklustre second half, evoking bitter memories of surrendering first half leads in the 2018 World Cup semi final and Euro 2020 final.

While Bellingham was rightly applauded for his commandeering role in midfield and grabbing the goal, many questions are being asked around Phil Foden's place in the team after he put in an anonymous shift in Gelsenkirchen.

There were high hopes the 2024 Premier League Player of the Season would be an England star this summer but suddenly he seems incompatible with Bellingham in the same starting lineup.

If there is room for only one creator in the hole behind the strikers then it is very hard to argue La Liga's Player of the Season should make way for the EPL's.

Foden on the left seemed to be wasting his talent, but there it was again, the Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard conundrum no England manager could resolve.

The Man City star's left-sided work was utterly eclipsed by Bukayo Saka, a natural wide man on the other flank, tormenting the Serbian full back Strahinja Pavlović with some good old matador v bull duels.

Many have asked why Anthony Gordon, a ready-made left-winger who has enjoyed a season of tramline racing at Newcastle, was not picked or brought on to create a threat on England's quiet side. Or indeed, why weren't Eberechi Eze or Cole Palmer introduced to jazz up an anodyne attack as the minutes ticked by?

Was Foden just too big a name to drop?

Harry Kane, Bayern Munich's top gunner this season and the nation's all-time top scorer, was another ghost on the pitch, starved of supply and frustratingly dropping deeper as the game went on to reprise his Tottenham linking role, when England already had Bellingham and Foden to do that.

In his defence Kane told reporters he had been tasked with drawing markers from that young duo and in that sense it worked because Bellingham netted.

Questions have also been raised about Trent Alexander-Arnold's role in central midfield when he has done better as a wing-back or wide midfielder for his club. 

The Liverpool man seemed out of sorts with his passing and ball control and so far from the dangerous attacker or penetrative distributor we know he can be. Calls for Kobbie Mainoo instead duly echoed.

Then there was criticism of right-footed Kieran Trippier playing at left back. This was not quote fair because Luke Shaw is still not match fit but the Newcastle man clearly was not as effective on his unnatural flank and needed more time to distribute than usual. 

Southgate could have taken one or both of the Chelsea duo of Ben Chilwell or Levi Colwill, both of whom are more comfortable in that position but it is too late now.

On the plus side, beyond the afore-mentioned Bellingham and Saka, Marc Guéhi slotted in effortlessly at centre back, Declan Rice impressed in midfield and Jarrod Bowen was an energetic and effective substitute for Saka.

England never looked like losing their first match but despite ending it with a 100% record, they will probably never wholly win over the media or the 57 million amateur English managers watching them play.

Such is the weight of the badge.

Euro 2024

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Euro 2024 Group B

Euro 2024 Group C

Euro 2024 Group D

Euro 2024 Group E

Euro 2024 Group F

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First Weekend

Bratwurst & Fußball

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The Wisdom of Hindsight

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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