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The expanded Euro 2016 has faced criticism due to its format, one which promotes negative football according to many. Andrew Thomas weighs in on the matter.

Bus Euro 2016


I can see why teams do it in the FA Cup, it’s Crawley vs Man United and Crawley are desperate to get a replay and some more income, or they genuinely fancy a chance of an upset in a replay, perhaps on pens.  Classic David v Goliath, rich vs poor.

International football should not be like that.

Hi, I’m John Purist and I’m here to talk about international teams parking buses and why I find it annoying and unbecoming of international tournaments!

So, Iceland turned up and put 9 men in their final third against Portugal, and then celebrated at the end like they’d just won an all-expenses trip to Paris.  The argument offered by people en masse was that it was something to be celebrated, because they have a population of 300,000 people and they held Portgual, a nation of 10,000,000 people, to a draw.  But why is population disparity an excuse for a lack of expansive football?

I could see the problem if the football field allowed all 10,000,000 Portuguese citizens onto the field, and 300,000 Icelandic people had to defend against them.  But it was 11 vs 11.  Well it was actually 10 v 11 when you take into account how bad Ronaldo was…

We then saw more negative play from Slovakia against England, and that was the straw that broke this man’s back.

If population size is something of a factor, then you have to open that up across the board and accept it.

Portugal (10m population) can put 11 men behind the ball vs England (53m)?

Spain (47m) can park the bus against Russia (142m) or Germany (82m), or France (64m)?

Belgium (11m) can park the bus vs Ukraine(44m)?

Croatia (4m) can shut up shot for 90 minutes against Hungary (9m)?

No, I didn’t think it was a good system…

I can see the merit in a smaller country upsetting the odds and beating an established footballing power, such as Ireland in World Cup 1994 when they beat Italy 1-0, or when Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990, or Greece winning Euro 2004, you get the idea.  Achievement should be recognised and celebrated, of course.  But spoiling tactics and a lack of attacking intent is just alien to the ideals of football generally.

It’s a sport where the aim of the game is to score more goals than your opponent.  To step foot onto the pitch with very little regard to scoring a goal makes me question why they bother to put their kits on and step onto the field.

I saw journalist Henry Winter last night tweet how he thought Slovakia’s Martin Skrtel defensive display against England was something to be taught to children.  I completely disagree.

Skrtel barely left his penalty area all game, he stood around the penalty spot and (due to England’s attacking ineptitude) the ball was like a magnet to that area and he was there to head and thrash the ball away as far as he could.

Football at the top level doesn’t work like that. Defending at the top level, for top teams, doesn’t work like that.  Teams are expansive, moving, fluid, intelligent, because fans expect top teams to attack the opposition, and it would be suicidal to leave your defence back in the penalty area and then go forward and leave that huge gap between defence and midfield.

Skrtel was horribly exposed under Klopp at Liverpool, who tried to play like a top attacking team.  This was why he was frozen out and Toure was preferred to him, and why Skrtel is now about to be sold.  He’s not a good enough defender at the top level.

This was also part of the reason that John Terry suffered horribly under Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, some say.  Anyway, that’s for another day.

Ronaldo was roundly attacked for his ‘small mentality’ comments following the draw with Iceland, and I don’t feel it was right for him to receive that criticism.  Yes, he’s sour and yes he’s disappointed with himself and probably feels despondent to be in yet another Portugal team massively lacking in quality.  It’s worrying what’s happening to Portugal.

But he had a point.  You can’t just roll over because you face a difficult task, or improbable task.  Ronaldo is the king of mentality, he’s developed his body and his game to become a remarkable footballer. People aren’t born with athletic qualities like Ronaldo, they are developed through insane hard work and discipline.  He came from the island of Madeira, with a population of 267,000 who have a list of notable people where Big Brother 5 winner Nadia Almada is probably the best known outside of Madeira!

Should Ronaldo have ever bothered to think he could go on to become one of the best footballers of all time considering the small likelihood of him succeeding?  I think Iceland’s players should listen and learn when Ronaldo speaks about mentality, and not wallow in self-pity, or limit their dreams to a 0-0 draw with a very pedestrian Portugal side.  Iceland probably won’t get another chance to leave an indelible mark on a top tournament again, against such an established side.

Iceland qualified for the tournament when other nations such as the Netherlands did not.  For me, it makes a mockery of a major international tournament for a team to reach the finals and have so little intent of playing football.  Wales could be forgiven for doing the same, but instead have won their group.  Wales, with a population of 3m, beat Russia 3-0.  That should shame Iceland and Slovakia, but it won’t, and I’ll probably get criticised for even suggesting it.

One would hope we don’t see similar games emerging in the knockout rounds but invariably we will, with UEFA’s insane policy of four of the 3rd place teams qualifying, and so you can’t imagine the likes of Iceland, Albania, or Slovakia taking the game to the opposition anytime soon whereas Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland would likely play with a modicum of attacking intent, as they already have.

All the Iceland and Slovakia players are professional athletes, some at very high profile clubs, so why shrink into mice when faced with a game of football?  Why is that acceptable to the supporters of those nations, to try to achieve a dour 0-0 draw?

There’s a time and a place for it, periods within games, but not the entire gameplan, that should never be rewarded at this level of the sport.


Written by Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas

Provider of absurd quality on football pitches on Sunday mornings, and student of sports sciences, health, and football.
Andrew Thomas

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