Seven Manchester United players appeared at Euro 2012, with a further six former Reds also playing at the tournament. Rant looks back on each player’s performance, with the tournament winding up with the Spain – Italy final in Kiev on Sunday:
Wayne Rooney, England
England’s talisman suffered yet another disappointing competition, after injury, poor form or dismissal struck at tournaments in 2004, 2006 and 2010. But after a five-week layoff, with Rooney hamstrung by an English system designed above all to ‘not lose’, how could anybody expect any different? Sitting out matches against France and Sweden, Rooney made a goal-scoring return against co-hosts Ukraine, before a frustrating outing against Italy in the quarter-final. The United striker has taken the brunt of national blame for England’s quarter-final departure, but aged just 26, Rooney has at least three more tournaments at international level. The question is: will he finally star in one of them?
Chances created: 2
Passing: 55/76 (72%)
Ashley Young, England
Young began the tournament as one of England’s brightest hopes, having scored six times in the previous 10 internationals before Euro 2012 kicked off.Yet, much like England’s other attacking players Young suffered for the negative system, turning in a poor set of metrics that included no goals, no assists and just two chances created for his team-mates over four matches. The former Aston Villa man can’t be happy with his overall performance. That more than half of Young’s touches came in his own half tells a story though – of a player deployed far more defensively that he is by United. There is more to come from Young, but he will be disappointed that he did not make his mark of this tournament.
Chances created: 2
Passing: 76/102 (75%)
Danny Welbeck, England
Strong performances from Welbeck under difficult circumstances at Euro 2012 mean that the United youngster will leave Poland and Ukraine with plenty to be pleased about. The 21-year-old was neat and tidy on the ball, whether deployed either as a traditional ‘number 9’ or dropping deep to augment midfield. The Manchester-born striker also scored a superb winning goal against Sweden – flicking home with his heel to seal England’s 3-2 win in Group D. Welbeck has a very bright international future ahead of him, especially if he can add goals to an excellent all-round game.
Chances created: 2
Passing: 82/90 (91%)
Phil Jones, England
The United defender-cum-midfielder was at Euro 2012 ostensibly as Glenn Johnson’s cover at right-back, although the 20-year-old failed to see any action in Poland and Ukraine. Jones may well have benefited from the experience of a major international tournament, although his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson can hardly be pleased that a player who suffered burn out and injuries during the second half of last season didn’t get a longer summer rest. Moreover, given Johnson’s less-than-secure defensive displays during the tournament, Jones may well be disappointed to have not seen more action.
Chances created: –
Patrice Evra, France
Former French captain Evra suffered another disappointing tournament, two years after the drama of South Africa at World Cup 2010. Selected despite some underwhelming club and national team displays over the past year, Evra was unceremoniously dropped by coach Laurent Blanc after France’s draw with England in the opening Group D fixture. It remains a perplexing decision given that Evra performed solidly against the English – this coming after the left-back was criticised for his performances in some of France’s warm-up games. Now aged 31, Evra may consider his international future.
Chances created: 1
Passing: 65/69 (94%)
United’s winger can be pleased with a strong tournament, in which the 25-year-old provided a string of consistent and threatening performances for semi-finalists Portugal. Embroiled in contract talks at Old Trafford, Nani can only have added to his reputation and value this summer. Nani, of course, was over-shadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo, but United player’s numbers add up to a fine tournament overall. Scored in the shoot-out loss to Spain in the semi-final, although will be disappointed with his performance against the World and European champions during the match itself.
Chances created: 13
Passing: 106/142 (75%)
Anders Lindegaard, Denmark
Failed to make any appearances as the Danish exited the tournament at the group stage. After nearly five months off through injury, United’s second-choice ‘keeper was fortunate to make the Danish squad at all.
Chances created: –
Former Reds at Euro 2012
Cristiano Ronaldo – the tournament in which Cristiano banished lingering doubts about his ability to perform at the highest level. Scored three times, hit the post on four occasions during the tournament. However, received criticism for not taking a penalty during the shoot-out loss to Spain
Gerard Piqué – still in the tournament, with Spain having made the final once again. Piqué didn’t have the finest campaign for Barcelona, but looks to be back to his best in the national shirt.
John O’Shea – a leading candidate among some pundits’ ‘worst team of the tournament’ lists. O’Shea, together with the haphazard Irish defence, were embarrassed against Croatia, Spain and Italy.
Darron Gibson – didn’t play for the Irish during a disastrous tournament.
Paul McShane – another former Red who didn’t feature for the Irish in three group matches.
Ron Robert Zieler – didn’t play for Germany as the Germans exited the tournament at the semi-final stage.
Just three games to go at Euro 2012, with Portugal meeting Spain in Donetsk on Wednesday, followed by Germany versus Italy in Warsaw on Thursday for the right to play in Sunday’s final. It should prove to be another fascinating round of matches in an excellent tournament to date, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and co aiming to pull off a shock against World and European champions Spain in the Iberian derby on Wednesday.
Much will depend on how Portugal approach the match, having displayed such attacking verve in matches against Denmark, Holland and Czech Republic, after opening the tournament so negatively against Germany. Indeed, Spain remain favourites despite the frequent accusations of the “boring” football served up in the tournament to date.
As ever, Portugal’s hopes lie with Ronaldo, who now has six European Championship goals in total. Having hit the woodwork four times already, the former Manchester United man could have scored a lot more. Only Alan Shearer with seven, and Michel Platini who has nine, have scored more in the tournament’s history.
The omens may not lie with Portugal though – the Spanish have beaten their neighbours just twice in the past 54 years, but the head-to-head record has Spain with 16 wins to Portugal’s six. The Portuguese have lost four of five previous semi-finals at major tournaments too – the only victory coming against Holland at home in 2004.
Spain, meanwhile, has gone 10 Euro finals matches without defeat since losing to Portugal in the 2004 tournament. Del Bosque’s side has also kept eight consecutive clean sheets in knock-out games at tournaments. Iker Casillas is unbeaten in more than 13 hours of knock-out football, since the great Zinedine Zidane scored a last-minute goal for France at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Both teams report a reasonably clean bill-of-health for the tie. Portugal striker Helder Postiga will miss the match with a thigh injury, with coach Paulo Bento likely to deploy Hugo Almeida in his stead. Postiga aside, Portugal should start with an unchanged line-up.
Meanwhile, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has no new injury concerns after the quarter-final stroll against France, although the former Real Madrid manager must decide whether to recall striker Fernand Torres or persist with Cesc Fabregas as a ‘false 9’.
Join United Rant for live comment, analysis and chat during the first Euro 2012 semi-final. Early thoughts throughout the afternoon, with preamble, team news and pre-match comments from around 7pm.
It’s no so much that the English nation likes a scapegoat – although quite clearly it does – but that there’s fundamental requirement to ignore the deep seated problems in the national game. In the 46 years since England won it’s only international tournament blame has been apportioned liberally after repeated, and frequently embarrassing tournament defeats. This is a cycle long-established, lasting roughly two years; wash, rinse, repeat. Euro 2012 has offered a fall-out so typically English that it ranks right up there with the finest national traditions. Like failing to pass the ball with any sense of authority, or repeatedly using the word ‘bulldog’ before bowing out to a technically superior opponent.
England’s national reaction is, of course, one that ignores every fundamental technical, tactical and mental failure inherent in the English game. How could it not, lest the authorities that govern these matters actually resolve to fix the inherent problems in coaching and culture that have contributed to repeated failure.
Indeed, the vitriol dished out to Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young after England’s latest failure is no great surprise; there was always a certain sense of inevitability that the media, and by extension the public, would seek out individuals and ignore the root cause. Little surprise that two players from England’s most successful club should fall victim to the mob either.
While United’s striker Danny Welbeck emerged from the tournament with some credit, and Phil Jones is immune having spent three wasted weeks on the bench, it is Rooney and Young that have been singled out after penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy on Sunday night. Young for a series of lacklustre performances, and Rooney for being, well, Rooney.
Neither player’s performances genuinely stands out amid a tournament replete with English mediocrity, but, then, scapegoats rarely do. David Beckham, Paul Ince, and Rooney himself, each understands from personal experience the depth of national hate that is so often be meted out to the men in Red.
Young’s disappointing tournament was surprising in that the former Aston Villa winger had performed so well for the international team over the past year. Six goals in the player’s previous 10 internationals proffered a player in form, mature and ready to make a genuine mark on an international tournament. Yet, in four games at Euro 2012 Young was unable to deliver the goals, assists, or vibrant performances that had previously flowed so freely.
The criticism is in part supported by Young’s stats over the tournament, but then none of a poor English cohort will be proud of their attacking achievements. The United winger completed 76 of 92 passes over the tournament, at 82 per cent accuracy. Young made four shots, although none was on target, created two chances, and provided no assists.
There is mitigation, though. After all, at no stage was Young genuinely deployed in the attacking role he is accustomed to at United, nor with the freedom afforded under former England coach Fabio Capello, even in the opening match against France when the United man was nominally deployed ‘in the hole’.
Restricted by a system that placed emphasis on defensive shape over possession and attacking fluidity, too often Young found himself running from deep into increasingly lonely dark alleys. That less than 40 per cent of Young’s infrequent touches at the tournament came in the attacking third tells its own story. The 26-year-old was by no means culpable alone for failure in a highly dysfunctional English midfield.
Yet, for the all criticism Young has earned, egged on by sabre-rattling BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson, it is Rooney who has garnered most headlines following Sunday’s loss. After all, the hype built pre-tournament by manager Roy Hodgson had reached it’s most fervent pitch by the time of Rooney’s introduction for England’s match against Ukraine last week. The nation expected Rooney to deliver the Pelé-esque performances promised by the team’s manager.
After scoring against Ukraine, Rooney was unable to influence England’s match against Italy – a fixture in which the Azzurri enjoyed more than 65 per cent possession; 75 per cent in extra time. It was, of course, always unrealistic to expect Rooney, without a game in more than five weeks, to drag England up from the gutter of defensive entrenchment. But, then, realism and English expectations have rarely been natural bedfellows.
Some, though, were very quick to lay the blame on England’s leading striker, including former manager Fabio Capello who claimed, with no hint of irony, that Rooney only performs for United.
“After seeing the latest (England) game, I think Rooney only understands Scottish,” Capello said.
“He only plays well in Manchester where Sir Alex Ferguson speaks Scottish. Look, when I spoke they did understand me. But every now and again, when I tried to explain tactics, things didn’t work out. You know what? Maybe it’s because Rooney doesn’t speak English. He doesn’t understand English.”
While Capello’s words smack of bitterness – the Italian having fallen on his sword in defence of John Terry – even the now incumbant Hodgson threw Rooney to the wolves, offering up a headline-writers dream in the process.
“I think we put a lot of expectations on Wayne,” Hodgson admitted post defeat to Italy.
“When he missed the first two games, we were all believing that what we needed to do was to get to the third game and Wayne Rooney will win us the championships. That maybe was too much to ask of him. Wayne certainly tried very hard, but he didn’t have his best game. I think he would admit that.”
In truth England’s failure is a collective; of tactical rigidity, technical limitations, and obsessive focus on ‘spirit’, ‘fight’ and ‘work rate’. Across four matches England enjoyed just 40 per cent possession, according to UEFA’s official statistics. Only Ireland and Greece claimed less. Other stats nerds, including OPTA, have the figure even lower. No wonder, when England’s players found a team-mate with just 67 per cent of passes made – the 13th lowest in the tournament.
By contrast, there is little surprise that England places top of the ‘tackles made’ table, but achieved the fourth lowest shots on target per game out of the 16 teams at the tournament. This was an England side which sought only to not lose, anything else being a bonus. It was a system built for defensive “heroes” at the expense of attacking talent.
“We were being too conservative,” observed now former England defender Rio Ferdinand.
“It sends a message to the opponents that you are more interested in defending and playing on the counterattack than making them scared of you. The only time we really kept the ball properly was when Danny Welbeck dropped short to collect it and linked the play. But, usually, he was having to stay up and wasn’t allowed to drop too much because we had set out a certain way with a 4-4-2 which didn’t offer a great deal of flexibility.
“It’s OK saying we were very good defensively and hard to beat but if you set out to be defensive then that’s your first priority. It makes it very hard for the attacking players in the team. The most damming statistic of them all was that one which showed our best passing combination was between Joe Hart and Andy Carroll.”
Not that the critics will concur. It was, after all, Young’s fault. Or maybe Rooney’s. Or maybe a bit of both. But what’s defeat if you have that bulldog spirit? The spirit of yet another English failure.
England versus Italy hardly recalls memories of iconic past games. After all these two venerable nations have met just twice in tournament football; Italy winning both in the 1980 European Championships, and at the 1990 World Cup, third place play-off. Indeed, the Azzurri has the edge in recent meetings, having lost just once to England in the past 35 years. That loss came at the height of Glenn Hodle’s ‘chic’ England side at Le Tournoi, Nantes, in 1997, when Ian Wright and Paul Scholes scored.
Neither side was much fancied to make an impact on Euro 2012, but one will certainly reach the semi-finals after tonight’s fixture in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. However, it is, perhaps, Italy that has caught the eye to date – looking impressive against Spain in the opening fixture. But Roy Hodgson’s functional England side has warmed into the tournament – few expect anything other than an even match tonight.
Join United Rant Live for more comment, chat and analysis on this Euro 2012 quarter-final. We’ll be with you live with team news from around 7pm, with preamble, updates and quotes throughout the day.
More than 30 games into Euro 2012 and we reach the knock-out stages, when the true narrative of the tournament is always written. Over the next 10 days hopes and dreams will be shattered, or attained, as the tournament reaches it’s dénouement. What a tournament it has been to date, with some of the most attacking football seen at any international competition in recent memory.
The quarter-finals take place over four nights, starting with Portugal’s win over the Czech Republic on Thursday, and concluding with England’s defeat to Italy in Kiev on Sunday.
In between – Friday’s match, as Germany meets Greece in Gdansk. Can Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil and the rest lead Germany into the semi-final, or will Greece’s fighting spirit produce another shock?
Join United Rant for live chat, comment and analysis on the match from around 7pm, with updates and news through the afternoon.
The “big man is back” Wayne Rooney once proclaimed on his return to the England side after a pre-World Cup 2006 injury. The tournament ended with Rooney dismissed during England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal. Six years on, and it’s crunch time in Group D at Euro 2012, with England facing up to an early exit should Roy Hodgson’s side suffer defeat to Ukraine on Tuesday night.
However, victory over a mediocre Sweden side last week, together with Rooney’s return to the side from suspension, leaves England favourites to qualify along with France from Group D. Spain and Italy await in the knockout stages, and victory tonight will not ensure that England avoids the world champions, with France holding a slender goal difference advantage heading into the final Group D fixtures.
There’s plenty of Manchester United interest in these games, with Rooney likely to start alongside Danny Welbeck in attack for England, and Ashley Young on the wing. Meanwhile, Patrice Evra and Phil Jones are likely to be on the bench for France and England respectively.
Join United Rant for live comment, analysis and chat on England v Ukraine and Sweden v France from 7pm, with updates, team news and preamble throughout the day.
The competition on the pitch at Euro 2012 has been fierce, sometimes more than a little dramatic and, yes, refreshingly attacking. About time after the negativity of World Cup 2010 in South Africa, where defences ruled and entertainment failed. While the distances between games at the Euros has sometimes been significant, travel notoriously difficult and hotels rabidly expensive, the tournament has largely taken place against a positive backdrop, incidents of racism and violence in the streets excepted.
Yet, while the football has been predominantly high-quality, and the atmosphere mostly positive, the same cannot always be said for the UK’s broadcasters; Sky’s normally outstanding Premier League coverage having been replaced for three weeks by the best on offer from the UK’s free-to-air channels.
After the distance, and not inconsiderable expense, of outside broadcast across 10 South Africa cities two years ago, how would BBC and ITV approach the logistically difficult tournament? Reluctantly, it seems.
Gone are the stunning vistas of South Africa, replaced in ITV’s case with a semi-permanent on-site studio built in an attractive, if modest, Warsaw square. The back-drop is no Table Mountain, but Warsaw’s National Stadium has sat, colourfully lit for most of the week, just over pundit Roy Keane’s right shoulder.
ITV’s studio is a modern effort, wrapped in edge-to-edge glass, if lacking any obvious tie to the domestic audience, given that England’s base in Krakow is some 300 kilometres south, and all group games hundreds more east in Ukraine. It’s unfortunately tragi-comic – born of the broadcaster’s logistical planning more than two years in the making. At least presenter Adrian Chiles has been kept honest by a stream of old town late-night revellers.
The BBC, meanwhile, stung by criticism of its extravagant £2 million Cape Town base at the previous World Cup – that of the awesome Table Mountain landscape – has retrenched into a minimalist Salford studio, replete with no vista at all, save for levitating computer-generated team graphics. This, in a time of austerity conscious penny-pinching, is the price of keeping the Daily Mail onside it seems. Still, critics might still point to the £70 million cost of broadcast rights, split between BBC and ITV.
What the Beeb has lacked in outside broadcast atmosphere the organisation has attempted to fill with an extensive roster of pundits. Accused of a back-slapping know-it-all-yet-deliver-little attitude at the World Cup, Aunty has employed a plethora of managers and ex-players to fill in the knowledge gap. Match of the Day could do with the same refresh.
Not that the core team has been knocked back, with Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer on location, and Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon joined by lead presenter Gary Linekar back in Salford. Melancholy’s Lawrenson, who’s knowing inner-pain has tormented the viewing public for nigh-on two decades, has taken up co-commentator duties alongside BBC regulars Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce, and Simon Brotherton.
While Lawrenson suffers on our behalf, Shearer has been offered a new lease-of-life pitchside with the likeable Jake Humphrey. Stripped of the replay monitor, the former Newcstle United striker has been pressed into delivering something other than the bland descriptive – it has almost, if not quite, approached insight. Beeb producers take note.
In the other half of the draw, the choleric Martin Keown has occasionally been joined by former England ‘keeper David James for the BBC. It’s an eclectic mix, with retired ‘keeper James sharp-witted and smartly dressed, to Keown’s wild-eyed morose. It has shown too, with James struggling to contain his frustration at Keown’s unremittingly downbeat stream-of-consciousness.
Had Linekar the wherewithal, after years stuck on the sofa with Lawrenson, he might have been tempted to throw himself out of a Media City studio window; a martyr to the media cause. Except the studio is windowless – a cocooned mausoleum to Lawro’s pain.
Meanwhile, back in the BBC studio former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf has offered a relaxed counter-balance to Hansen’s highly-strung, serial-killer intensity. Seedorf is so laid-back that mere consciousness itself is seemingly an affront to his endless powers of relaxation.
It is not often that ITV out-does it’s publicly funded sibling, but it might just be the case despite the desperately try-hard Chiles doing his level best to cheapen the coverage. There’s chummy, and then there’s Chiles, who’s efforts universally grate over the course of a late afternoon to evening.
Meanwhile, in the commentary box Andy Townsend continues his one-man campaign to ‘end passing’, while Clive Tyldesley struggles on without any obvious link to that night in Barcelona with which to fill dead air.
Yet, on the pundit’s sofa ITV has hit the winning note, pairing off Keane, with his erstwhile rival on the pitch, Patrick Vieira, and the solid, if humdrum, Gareth Southgate. Joining on the suspiciously ethnic-looking cushions – surely a hand-me-down from the World Cup – is the excitable Roberto Martinez, who is both engaging and insightful, while Gordon Strachan remains as spiky as ever.
And the broadcaster struck gold with Jamie Carragher, who’s refreshing honesty chimes the right note, even if the scouse inflection is all-too-painful on the ears.
Yet it is with Keane, the former Manchester United midfielder and captain, that ITV scores the winning runs. Keane, painfully honest and intense, was described by one national magazine of ‘going feral’ this week such is the Irishman’s demented scowl. Like David Brent, Keano is best viewed from behind the safety of the sofa.
Not least if you’re an Irishman, with Keane saving his most delicious barbs for his fellow countrymen. While others praised an Irish support that ran to 20,000, Keane refused to tow a party line, chiding a stunned Chiles that “it’s nonsense to say how great the fans are. The players and supporters have to change their mentality. Let’s not just go along for the sing-song every now and again.”
Mind you, Keane once promised he would never take the easy punditry pound. Good for ITV’s Euro 2012 coverage that he did. Unsafe perhaps for the “bemused onlooker” Vieira who’s safety cannot be guaranteed should Keane go fully off reservation.
Continuing the serious of, frankly, incongruous United Rant Live blogs during 2012, we’ll be covering the conclusion to Group A on Saturday night! There’s everything to play for in the ‘group of bored to death’, which turned out anything but.
Russia need only draw with Greece to qualify for the quarter finals, although a win will secure top spot in the group. Should Russia draw then the Czech’s could still finish top by beating Poland, and if the unthinkable happens and Greece beat Russia then Dick Advocaat’s men will be out unless there is a draw in the other fixture.
The Czech’s, meanwhile, can secure qualification with victory over Poland. A draw may be enough though, should Russia beat Greece as expected. Meanwhile, Poland must win or the co-hosts are out whatever happens in the other game. Finally, Greece can only qualify with victory and hope that Poland and the Czech Republic draw.
Join us for both games live from around 7pm UK time, with team news updates and pre-amble through the afternoon. There’s no Manchester United interest in this one, but the drama should be great nonetheless.
Germany versus Holland in one of the iconic fixtures in the international football calendar, invoking memories of the 1974 World Cup final, and the feisty clash between the sides at the 1990 version of the competition. Those are just two in 38 fixtures between the countries that remain the best of enemies. There is unlikely to be any love lost when the sides meet once again, in Khakiv, at Euro 2012.
Following Holland’s surprise loss to Denmark on match-day one, Bert van Marwjick’s men desperately need the points in the industrial Ukrainian town, while Germany is looking to build on a narrow win over Portugal. Indeed, a Germany win will send Joachim Löw’s men into the next round, and Holland out of the tournament.
There’s tangential Manchester United interest in this clash, with the perennial tabloid column-filler Wesley Sneijder starting for Holland, while young midfielder Keving Strootman should also be involved. On the German side former United trainee Ron-Robert Zieler will be on the bench.
Join United Rant for our latest live blog at Euro 2012, with Ed and Jony Ball from around 7pm, with preamble and Portugal – Denmark updates 5pm.