Early Doors

Familiar failings haunt England

When Early Doors awoke this morning to a front room full of discarded beer bottles, empty crisp packets, crumpled flags and a freshly opened jar of despair, the sense of deja vu was overwhelming.

England are out of another major tournament. In the quarter-finals. On penalties. Having been outplayed and outpassed. Not outfought but completely outthought. For ED, the defining image of a rather humbling exit to Italy was Andrea Pirlo's Panenka penalty: a moment of sublime thought, which through a combination of technique and poise sent England hurtling off in the wrong direction.

The fact Pirlo later claimed he had dinked the penalty down the middle in a deliberate attempt to strike a psychological blow merely confirmed he and Italy were operating on a different cerebral plain. Or as Roy Hodgson said: "The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it, that is something you have or you don't have as a player." England, emphatically, didn't. Not at any stage of the evening, nor at any stage of this tournament.

Almost before the winning spot-kick - converted by erstwhile West Ham disappointment Alessandro Diamanti - had nestled in the back of the net, ED could hear the inquest beginning, the bout of self-loathing that as surely as night follows day now greets biennial England disappointment.

How did England contrive to ensure that their most frequent passing combination was Joe Hart lumping it downfield to Andy Carroll, who only appeared as a substitute after an hour? How did Hart have the most touches of any England player? Why can Italy treat the ball as an ally, while we regard it with suspicion? Why can't Parker play like Pirlo?

All familiar complaints, all entirely legitimate. In its own way, Pirlo's extensive masterclass in Kiev was every bit as devastating in exposing the technical deficiency at the heart of English football than the 4-1 pasting Germany dished out at the World Cup in South Africa.

It was less spectacular, of course, but if ever there was a single player who demonstrated just what English football should aspire to, it was Pirlo last night. Replays of his match highlights should be played on a constant loop on every available screen at the new National Football Centre in Burton when England begin the process of deep structural and technical realignment that must occur if the country is ever able to really compete at such a level. Stop ED if you have heard this one before.

Given this vast disparity in the quality of the two teams - reflected in some fairly brutal passing and shooting statistics, but entirely evident well before kick-off - ED was somewhat surprised to see some England fans and critics attack Roy Hodgson for his part in all this.

It begged the question: what exactly did you expect?

Hodgson was shoehorned into the job five weeks before the tournament started. He took charge of a squad that was coping with a high-profile race charge and that progressively began to shed injured players in the build-up to the competition.

The thought that the new man might be able to reverse decades of acute cultural deficiency in the space of a few weeks, at the same time as putting a squad together for a major tournament, is entirely ridiculous. Indeed, ED would argue that in such circumstances, losing in a quarter-final after winning their group represents overachievement for England if anything.

Of course they leave the tournament with regret swirling around them - with England there is never any other way - and Hodgson has been criticised today for sitting back and allowing Pirlo the run of the park in Kiev. It's a fair point: though Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck stuck tight to him initially, Pirlo was given too much time and space to work his magic.

Mind you, finding time and space is what Pirlo does. Spain, a far superior side to England of course, failed to stop him making a lovely assist in the opening group game. If it was that easy to merely negate him, or a player like Xavi, then opposing teams would do it all the time. Yes England were run ragged by the Juventus midfielder, but much better teams have suffered that same fate before them.

It was a fairly horrid performance from England - insipid, sloppy, short of ideas, in keeping with much of their campaign at Euro 2012 - and for that Hodgson must ultimately be responsible. Yet again ED asks: what exactly did people expect?

Cesare Prandelli has had two years to work with his players, to construct a clear and positive identity; Roy Hodgson has not even had two months.

To pinpoint Hodgson for blame when England fell victim to established failings seems a bit much. Indeed, in those aspects that he could influence in such a short time, ED thought he did a decent job at the Euros.

The camp genuinely seemed a much happier place than at previous tournaments. England's players looked relaxed, humble even at times. There was no mass ego trip - this was an England squad that was, whisper it quietly, even a bit likeable. The contrast to South Africa two years ago was marked.

Morale, spirit and attitude: these are the things that Hodgson can influence in five weeks, not deeply-ingrained technical ability or hard-wired match intelligence. Time will tell if Hodgson is the right man to address England's integral failings, but that must now be the challenge as he begins looking ahead to the 2014 World Cup.

Unless something spectacularly bad happened, Euro 2012 was always going to be a bit of a free pass for Hodgson, a 'let's just see what happens' situation. And what happened was pretty much what you would expect.

It seems a bit strange to say this following the conclusion of a campaign at a major tournament, but now the hard work begins. The genius that is Andrea Pirlo has shown just how much Hodgson has to be getting on with.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's a sad moment. It is always difficult after a defeat, but the support we received today was really quite incredible, from the first minute to the 120th. The mood back at home and the feeling we have being supported back here has made the defeat even harder. We so much wanted to stay on and give the fans a reward for the support they've given us. I couldn't ask any more than the players gave tonight. They gave their all. We have to accept we weren't quite good enough to win it over the 120 minutes and, in the shoot-out, we went down the same road we've been so many times before." - Hodgson gets to grips with England's latest disappointment.

FOREIGN VIEW: While most of Europe's attention was focused on events in Kiev, desperately sad news came out of Spain where it was confirmed that former Liverpool defender Miki Roque had died of cancer at the age of just 23. Roque, who had been playing for Real Betis, had a tumour removed from his pelvis last year but passed away as a result of the disease. A Liverpool statement read: "Liverpool Football Club was today saddened to hear news that former player Miki Roque has lost his battle with cancer aged 23. Everyone at Liverpool Football Club would like to send their thoughts to Miki's family at this sad time."

COMING UP: There's no football on offer as Euro 2012 takes a couple of rest days ahead of the semi-finals, but Paul Parker carries on the England inquest at 1pm. Before then we will have the latest edition of our power rankings and Premier League watch, while a certain tennis tournament starts in SW19 at midday.

Follow Early Doors on Twitter!