How are the mighty fallenHow are the mighty fallen. Hot on the heels of all those hugely flattering tributes to Cristiano Ronaldo, adumbrating the prospect that he would penetrate the Spanish defence, what does he do, but fire a series of blanks, and fail to take any of his team’s four penalties, condemning them to so depressing an exit.
Not once in that game did we see Ronaldo, with one of his celebrated swerving, tormenting, right-footed shots, trouble Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal. Those famous free kicks all went for nothing. At least one decent chance from open play flew wide. The Spaniards did not have to close mark him or maltreat him. He simply was not on song. Reviving memories not of his superb form and inspired finishing against the Czechs, but of the astonishing miss earlier on when, all alone in the penalty box with the Danish goal at his mercy, he somehow contrived to shoot wide.
To place him fifth in the succession of Portuguese penalty takers against Spain seemed bordering on idiocy; potential suicide, as indeed it proved. To promote poor big Bruno Alves ahead of him made no sense at all; as indeed it sadly proved. Whose decision was it to keep Ronaldo, so deadly from the spot, at the back of the penalty-taking queue? The ultimate responsibility and the blame must surely rest with the manager Bento whose decisions as such would be final.
As for Spain, theirs was a laborious and unimpressive victory. Their famous tip tap pass produced not a single goal in the 120 plus minutes. The use or misuse of Negredo as an orthodox centre forward proved an error. When he went off, Vicente Del Bosque reverted to his previous unorthodox formation of half a dozen players in midfield, among whom Cesc Fabregas who came on as sub, and who would eventually strike that decisive but fortunate penalty, had some kind of licence to go forward. It didn’t really work.
Overall, indeed this was a Spanish team which rarely convinced. The occasional use up front of Fernando Torres, poor fellow, was a disaster against the Italians when he missed two such inviting goals; he did much better against the stumbling Irish but this could be seen perhaps as an exercise in rabbit killing. No, Del Bosque has not given the game an exciting and innovative fresh formation.
England, Rooney, Capello? It was silly and cheap of Fabio Capello to respond to Wayne Rooney’s somewhat tactless remarks about his poor English in the way he did; dignity was at a premium. Remember that when Rooney, on one of his, alas, all too frequent loutish moments got himself so expensively sent off against Montenegro, Capello fatuously blamed himself for picking Rooney at all, hot on the heels of his father and his uncle facing prosecution over alleged malfeasance.
The bitter truth is that Rooney who was meant to be England’s ace in the hole, was in fact more of a drug on the market, missing parlously with that header in the game against Ukraine, even if he later could hardly miss that point blank goal, contributing little or nothing against the Italians, when Roy Hodgson should surely have substituted him.
Hodgson has been criticised for his unproductive use of a 4-4-2 formation, especially against the Italians but any tactic is only as good as the players picked to implement it and England as we know, who never got near to subduing the inspired Andrea Pirlo, haven’t a schemer in sight, in the continued absence of Jack Wilshere. What a commentary on the ever more massively overpaid English ranks of the Greed is Good League.
But when all is said and done, England didn’t really lose a game, since you can hardly count penalties. Nor did they, of course, back in 1982 in Spain, when Ron Greenwood’s dubious selections arguably ensured that they would go out just the same.
Still, things went a great deal better for Roy than they did for Holland, losing all three games and now their manager. After that long period of success, the Dutch slide into the shadows.