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Opinion

Media histrionics once again embarrass England

2 years ago
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England through to the knockout stages as runners-up, with two wins and a defeat, is success.

Failure to progress would undoubtedly have been abysmal failure, considering Tunisia and Panama were in same group.

However, wins were achieved against both, so it is a satisfactory return, no more and no less.

When I say ‘success’ above, it is just plain fact, progressing in the competition equals success, no matter how it is done.

Despite England going through with a game to spare after wins over two poor/average opponents, the media have still somehow made the group stage into a rollercoaster of emotions (in terms of their reporting.

It actually all started off quite promising, pre-tournament there wasn’t really much ‘this could be our turn’ from the press boys (and girls), it was all quite realistic from most.

Get out of the group and then anything more than that is getting into bonus territory.

However, only 25 minutes into the tournament and that was all out of the window.

Gareth Southgate got the tactics absolutely right, gauged that Tunisia weren’t very good, and that if England really pressed early on, they could put this game to bed.

Sure enough, England (gratuitous use of photo above featuring three Newcastle greats for England) swarmed all over them, committed players forward and the Tunisians couldn’t get out of their half. England scored one and should have hadĀ another three or four, such was their superiority.

However, they didn’t, and unable to keep that intensity up, Tunisia got back into the game in terms of possession and a soft penalty conceded, allowed things to be all square at half-time.

Failure to score goals when so on top, a cardinal sin in football, looked to have cost England big style.

They created next to nothing after the break and it looked all over a draw, only for Harry Kane to show his class with a very late winner.

In that moment I think it all changed for the media, they ripped up the match reports and went in a totally different direction.

The coverage was all about how brilliant England had been in the opening stages and what a quality striker Harry Kane is, both things true BUT totally ignoring the other hour of the game when Southgate’s team looked totally lacking in ideas.

Going for an ok win (with their coverage) doesn’t suit the English media and instead this opening win was somehow turned into a brilliant victory and a promise of much more to come.

Against even weaker opposition in Panama, Southgate used exactly the same tactics and England totally overwhelmed them, five up at half-time.

A very professional display, good attacking play totally taking apart one of the weakest teams in the competition, you couldn’t have asked for anything more.

However, it was still just punishing a very poor team, not a sign that an average to decentĀ  England squad with one top class player (Kane) were suddenly the best we’d seen since ’66.

The media were in overdrive though, the low quality of the opposition almost completely ignored.

A rather fortunate win over Tunisia and a demolition of non-league Panama had 99% of journalists now consulting their World Cup wallcharts, working out exactly which side of the draw would make it easiest for England to get to the final.

This provided the platform for quite ridiculous stuff leading up to the Belgium match, the narrative being all about which side of the draw the Three Lions should be choosing.

Then because this was their overwhelming debate, they then start reporting as though it is fact that this is also Gareth Southgate’s agenda.

The public subjected to endless press debate about which team England should pick and whether they should be trying to lose the Belgium game to get an easier draw, especially in the quarter-finals…

When then Gareth Southgate made eight changes (Belgium made nine), it set the fuse burning.

Sure enough, after the defeat, the England boss has been ridiculed by some and questioned by most of the media.

It is hilarious, a media storm in a very small teacup.

I still don’t know which side of the draw is easiest, especially with so many surprises already and few real stand out sides.

The big story of the third match should have been that it was simply great news that for once England could protect all of their best players from injury and second yellows, as well as giving the first team (most of) a rest.

In contrast, the two possible last 16 opponents, Japan and Colombia, had very tough matches and clearly it is advantage both England and Belgium in terms of their preparation for the first knockout stage.

Nobody tried to lose the England v Belgium match, it was just about protecting players for the next game where the identity of the opposition was never going to be a big deal either way, but that isn’t a media story.

For my money, Gareth Southgate is an average manager in charge of an average squad but in this World Cup, with the right tactics and a large dose of luck, just maybe…
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