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It'll be alright, we'll turn out just fine

A few years ago, I read Inferno by Dante Alighieri. I don’t recommend it, it drags, it’s tedious and self-indulgent. Seriously, people sneer at kids today writing fanfic and this prick’s like ‘here’s an interminable poem about me travelling through hell with my mate, the ancient Roman poet Virgil’. Also, if you support both Oldham Athletic and the England men’s football team, you have already travelled through all nine circles of hell.

I got two out of three right with my predictions for the group stage. Sadly, England absolutely did not look like world beaters against Slovenia. They did not, in fact, look at any point like Slovenia beaters. It was so lethargic and insipid and half-hearted and negative that I couldn’t be arsed writing a blog last week.

(Not quite – it was a tough week, and I didn’t have the time or energy to write the blog. Sorry. The Slovenia game sure as shit didn’t help, though. But on the other hand, if England had beaten Slovenia, they wouldn’t have qualified for the knockout stage, and we wouldn’t have got to see Ronaldo cry.)

If the group stage performances didn’t fully convince everyone that it was coming home, the first 95 minutes of the Slovakia game fully convinced us that England were going home. After the first two games, it was declared that ‘the Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment has failed’, but after Conor Gallagher got hooked after 45 minutes against Slovenia and Kobbie Mainoo didn’t really seem to work in that position against Slovakia, maybe Southgate should concede that it’s not the players that are the problem and, I dunno, I haven’t got a Uefa coaching licence, but maybe play a formation that suits the players you have? I feel sorry for Alexander-Arnold, his strength is his long range passing, and that’s kind of wasted if the players around you appear to be in a catatonic stupor.

If you’re going to play dull crap negative football, the least you can do is be good defensively, but England couldn’t even give us that v Slovakia. Having been so impressive in the group stage, Guehi got booked for a foul after a poor pass from Trippier and misses the next game. Slovakia had several chances early on and it was no more than they deserved when Schranz put them ahead 25 minutes, having found himself in acres of space. It could have been utter humiliation a few minutes later, when Stones gave the ball away and Strelec lobbed Pickford from just inside England’s half. The nation breathed a collective ‘oh thank fuck’ when it went wide.

It clearly wasn’t working, and Southgate was staring his Iceland moment in the face. So, he had to make wholesale changes at half time, right? With all the options he’s got on the bench? Right? Lol. When he finally brought Cole Palmer on, in the 66th minute, it was a forced substitution for the injured Trippier, with Saka moving to left back. He didn’t make a tactical substitution until the 84th minute, and to be honest, while he did well enough, Eze wasn’t the player that England were clearly screaming out for with defeat and an early plane home less than 10 minutes away.

Harry Kane hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders, and it looks a lot like playing him up front on his own isn’t working and he needs someone running off him. So why, for the love of fuck, when you’re 1-0 down in the knockout stage of a major tournament, would you wait until the 94th minute to bring another striker on?

Southgate may argue that it was a masterstroke, because as soon as Toney came on, Guehi flicked on Walker’s long throw (that’s a useful trick to have, maybe we should have tried it at least half an hour earlier) for Bellingham to score a spectacular overhead goal, send the game into extra time, and celebrate with what was definitely an inside joke towards some close friends who were at the game and definitely not anything like a wanker gesture or him grabbing his balls.

Ninety seconds into extra time, from the rebound from a free kick, Toney headed it across goal for Kane to head England into the lead. Toney nearly scored himself in the last minute of extra-time. A tactical masterstroke bringing him on, clearly. Y’know what would have been more of a masterstroke? NOT WAITING UNTIL THE 94TH MINUTE TO BRING HIM ON.

Yet again, once England took the lead, they reverted to Gazball and sat back too deep, inviting pressure. It was my brother’s birthday last Sunday, and the last time England played on his birthday was when we lost on penalties to Argentina in the 98 World Cup. It was 2 hours of frustration and torture, followed by relief more than celebration. And cake.

Surely, SURELY, even Southgate can see that how he’s been setting England up isn’t working? Surely he can see that Kane needs someone up front playing off him? Surely we’re due some luck and better decision making down the left?

On the plus side, I’ve not heard that there was any repeat of the transport chaos in Gelsenkirchen, and one of our Latics representatives in Germany, Mark Winterbottom, said it was much better this time round. And he posted this photo of a sticker there, which is very funny.

Onto Switzerland, then. I’ve been impressed with them, and I fully expected them to beat Italy in the last round, so England need a massive improvement today. Although it is worth remembering that Switzerland could only manage a 1-1 draw against Scotland, the absolute worst team in the tournament.

It’s been a busy week at Fortress Boundary Park, as it was always likely to be, because everyone goes on holiday in May and June and players’ contracts usually expire on June 30th. Seriously, this happens every year, stop losing your shit when we don’t sign a dozen players a month into pre-season. This week, Dan Ward has headed back up north to South Shields, and good luck to him, and we’ve brought in Manny Monthe, Josh Kay, Harry Charsley and Jesurun Uchegbulam (Athleticos, can we please get a song going for him to the tune of the Vengabus? Ta). It’s progressing nicely.

Today’s quarter-final is eminently winnable, if – IF – Southgate learns from how shit and negative we’ve been so far this tournament, changes the team up, and breaks the habit of a lifetime and goes for it. It’s a big ask. But England’s men’s team famously only ever win tournaments under a Labour government, so let’s hope the arrival of Kieth the Brylcreemed shitehawk at 10 Downing Street changes the nation’s fortunes in more ways than one. Our country has voted decisively for change, Gareth. Relieve the weariness in the heart of this nation. Turn the page. KTMFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan


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