To be a supporter of England’s football team is to be guaranteed a life sentence of disappointment and misery.
Just when you allow yourself the luxury of thinking England might actually reach the latter stages of a major tournament, your optimism is punctured yet again by another abysmal display which culminates once more in embarrassing defeat.
England’s exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of tiny Iceland in their last 16 clash in the Mediteranean city of Nice is not quite as woeful as the national team’s shock 1-0 loss to the United States during the 1950 World Cup. But it comes awfully close.
Where to start? Well, England were unbeaten during the qualifying round for the Euro 2016 finals being hosted by France. England even pulled off a come-from-behind 3-2 win against the might of Germany in a pre-tournament friendly.
But having made the finals, England suffered what can only be described as a crisis of confidence which only deepened as the competition progressed from group play play to the knockout stages.
England’s players have now failed to perform on the big stage with such frequency that its players are obviously now paralysed by the fear of failure. Failure begets failure. It is a vicious circle.
England started the tournament creating plenty of chances in front of goal, but failed to convert them. They ended their sojourn in France struggling to create any decent chances, let alone score, during the crucial second half of the Iceland game.
The statistics tell the story. Four goals in four games was simply not good enough from players earning more than $200,000 a week on their club contactsy.
England manager Roy Hodgson was the ex-England manager within minutes of the final whistle in the Iceland match. His resignation at least saved the trouble of having to sack him.
He made some perplexing decisions during Euro 2016. He kept changing his line-up during the group stage, thereby failing to give his key players the time to combine as an effective and well-drilled unit.
Instead, England’s defence was frail. The midfield was a mess. Its strikers were correspondingly toothless.
Hodgson persisted in picking Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who, to be frank, failed to trouble most defences and seemed to lack maturity despite having made frequent appearances at international level.
Sterling’s tournament was summed up by him blasting the ball well over the bar in the match against Wales when it seemed impossible for him not to score.
His overall performance was summarised even better by The Guardian which quipped “the value of Sterling, on the evidence of this, is in decline here as across the rest of the world”.
Hodgson had overly high expectations of Jack Wilshere despite the Arsenal midfielder having barely touched the ball during the last Premier League season after fracturing his ankle, an injury which kept him out of action for many months.
Spurs’ defensive midfielder Eric Dier was one of the few players who looked to be on their game during the group stage. But he was invisible against Iceland and was justifiably replaced at half-time.
Hodgson appeared to have little faith in Jamie Vardy cutting it at this level despite the Leicester City striker possessing the kind of magic form which comes from scoring a swag of goals during the English domestic season.
Hodgson seemed to prefer Spurs’ Harry Kane, who, at the end of the day, simply did not deliver.
Likewise, Wayne Rooney, who was very ordinary and failed to stamp his authority on any of England’s four matches in France.
His Manchester United team-mate, the 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, showed flashes of the raw talent that mark him out as a player to watch. But Hodgson brought him on far too late for him to make any impact in the two appearances he made from the substitutes’ bench.
One could go on. But special mention must be made of Joe Hart.
In England’s first game, the Manchester City goalkeeper gifted Russia an injury-time equaliser, He failed to deal with a cross which ended up being a free header for one of Russia’s advancing defenders. The ball looped over Hart, who was stranded in no-man’s land, and into the goal.
Hart should have been dropped for the next game against Wales during which he made a complete hash of what admittedly was a thunderous shot from a free-kick taken by Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale.
Even that howler was not enough to prompt Hodgson to replace Hart with Southampton’s Fraser Forster.
That proved to be a very costly error of judgement. During England’s nightmare clash with Iceland, Hart muffed his dive in trying to save what was a soft shot. The ball somehow manage to squeeze under his arms and into the goal, giving Iceland a 2-1 lead. England never really recovered from that blow.
Like good wine, some goalkeepers get better with age. Hart does not look like becoming one.
If nothing else, he should never be allowed to pull on an England jersey again for a very long time, if ever.