Is it acceptable for a national team to play long-ball?
That’s the question facing Roy Hodgson following England’s display in Tuesday’s 0-0 World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.
Following the result, the England boss faced a wave of criticism from former England international, Gary Lineker, who called the Three Lions display “woeful” and “awful.”
Over Twitter, Lineker asked followers: “What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt? When you see England pass it like they’ve never been introduced to each other, it does make you wonder why [Michael] Carrick doesn’t feature.”
Later Lineker took a tongue-and-cheek approach, writing: “We’re seeing a lot of one-touch football. England have a touch. Ukraine have a touch. England have a touch….” The banter continued when Linker fired a warning shot the world’s best, “Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina et al, you’re in big trouble!”
When informed of the criticism Hodgson explained he thought it was a “very high-quality” performance and that he was happy.
“I cannot comment on what people think at home, but I don’t think that is a fair comment on our performance,” Hodgson said. “If the expectations upon us are now so great we come to places like Ukraine and are expected to roll teams over, it will be difficult for us ever to get a good result.”
Let’s consider the circumstances.
Heading into the match England were top of the group, one point ahead of Ukraine and even on points with Montenegro, who was idle. With home matches against Poland and Montenegro still to come, England could not afford to drop points to Ukraine. Mykhalo Fomenko’s side had already shown their quality in last year’s 1-1 draw at Wembley and with the Olympic Stadium filled with 70,000 screaming Ukrainians, a potential buzz-saw awaited the Three Lions.
So Hodgson gave his men their orders.
“Did we play longer balls forward early?” the England boss asked. “Yes, we did. We didn’t want to play out from the back and invite pressure.” With regards to Lineker’s comments Hodgson claimed he was “surprised anyone who has played for England, captained England and played in games of this nature can be that critical.”
He shouldn’t be. Hodgson employed a Route 1 approach and it was anything but a “very high-quality” performance .
But it worked. It was a tactic, a means to an end and a move that one could argue was not so different than Jose Mourinho’s decision two weeks ago to have Chelsea sit back and play for the draw against Manchester United.
Style of play is important and most would agree that England’s is in need of an overhaul. At the end of the day, however, the game remains a results based business.