Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

The Punter: Slaying Swedes is carrot for Roy Hodgson

KRAKOW, POLAND - JUNE 13: England manager Roy Hodgson during an England training session during UEFA Euro 2012 on June 13, 2012 in Krakow, Poland. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

England are the new Italy and ironically, it has taken an Englishman who replaced an Italian to bring about a catenaccio style of football made famous by Azzurri teams down the years.

Batten down the hatches, strong emphasis on defence, nullifying attacks and limiting scoring opportunities. The tactic has been refined in that it does not rely totally on man-to-man marking or a sweeper, but nevertheless, a strong organised defence with breakaways and only one striker is the way a team of limited talent can survive against technically superior opponents.

It's not pretty to watch but is often effective and it worked for Greece in the 2004 Euro Championships. So hats off to Roy Hodgson (right) and a 1-1 start against a superior French outfit and if James Milner had taken his open goal chance, England would have won. Hodgson knows his limitations and it was important not to lose. Until Wayne Rooney returns, goal chances will come mainly from set pieces as seen from Joleon Lescott's opening header.

England had a mere three shots at goal compared to France's 19 but for most of the match, a composed and organised Three Lions looked comfortable and under no real threat until the closing stages.

Giovanni Trapattoni adopts a similar system with the Republic of Ireland and only horrendous blunders cost them against Croatia while the tactics produced a Champions League crown for Chelsea.

And would anyone in England be critical if Stevie Gerrard lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy on July 1 by winning on penalties after a boring scoreless draw? I think not.

Cut to 12/1 for outright success, England still have plenty to do to qualify and Sweden, whom they meet on Friday, have never lost to England in a competitive game. The Swedes, beaten by Ukraine, must win but don't expect many goals and a draw at half-time is the best bet.

Hodgson is 7/4 to name the same team which means 18-year-old Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain keeping his place and he did enough to justify that.

Equally, Danny Wellbeck looks certain to be preferred ahead of Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe and 1/3 to be named is a gift.

The Republic, now 14/1 to qualify, face what looks an impossible task tomorrow night, taking on world and European champions Spain. The Spaniards are 3/10 to win but will be popular at 4/5 minus a goal. Equally, 8/13 either team not to score looks good.

The Republic, 6/5 not to pick up a point, end the group phase against Italy next Monday and the boys in green returning home pointless is now looking likely.

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