SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) England coach Roy Hodgson had a message for the growing band of doom-mongers following a frustrating stalemate against Slovakia.
“Sooner or later, we will get our reward,” Hodgson said.
The plea for patience may be lost on England’s long-suffering fans.
After an embarrassingly early exit from the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, England’s attack-minded class of 2016 promised something different at the European Championship.
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So far in France, it’s more of the same.
England faded after a bright start to stumble to a 1-1 draw against Russia, left it until stoppage time to snatch a 2-1 win over Wales, and lacked the cutting edge to break down a well-organized but limited Slovakia side in a 0-0 draw in Saint-Etienne on Monday.
The bottom line is that England finished second in its group behind Wales, its little British brother, and only won one of three fairly benign fixtures.
“I never thought I’d see England dominate three games like we have done,” said Hodgson, perhaps forgetting England’s second half against Russia and first half against Wales. “Soon we will make someone pay. We will score goals one day.”
By the end of the game against Slovakia, it was like an attack vs. defense exercise on the training ground.
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The English had their record scorer (Wayne Rooney) and the Premier League’s top two scorers this season (Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy) on the field. But they searched in vain for a way through a deep-lying, packed opposition defense and its goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
The stats said it all: England had 60 percent possession and 30 attempts on goal. But Kozacik was only really tested three times, by Vardy and Adam Lallana in the first half and Nathaniel Clyne in the second half.
“I know it wasn’t very nice to watch,” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said. “Perhaps I didn’t expect to be pressed so deeply, but we made some subs to neutralize the England attack.”
Hodgson was always going to receive criticism if his team failed to win after dropping six of his best players, including his captain and lead striker, to the bench. In fact, many of the changes worked out well, particularly Jordan Henderson, Clyne and – at least in the first half – Vardy.
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Jack Wilshere was the newcomer who struggled the most. The Arsenal midfielder missed all but the final three games of the Premier League season because of injury, and was a contentious choice for England’s 23-man squad because his lack of match sharpness.
Against Slovakia, WIlshere again seemed to lack that old burst of pace and gave the ball away on occasions. Hodgson is a big fan of Wilshere, but must have noticed the midfielder is not his old self.
“He’ll be an important member of this troupe if we get past the next match,” Hodgson said, defending Wilshere. “Can I sit here and say he set the world alight, I can’t say he did. But if that’s the only real negative that Jack didn’t play as well as he could, I’ll settle for that.”
But there’s more wrong than that.
England’s build-up play is still too ponderous, allowing defenses to get in shape and making them harder to penetrate. The team has missed the chance to play its last-16 game in Paris, near its training base. Also, England’s path in the knockout stage might have got tougher, with the potential of Portugal in the last 16 in Nice and then France in the quarterfinals.
That would be looking too far ahead of the evidence of the group stage.
“We are into the next round,” England goalkeeper Joe Hart said, “and nobody will want to play us.”