I'm sure there are legions of England fans fuming at today's performance, though probably not at the result so much. My question for them would be: what did you expect? England have finally admitted what has been the truth for a while -- that they are a limited side that has to find its way through discipline and shape. They no longer have the talent to play with more gifted teams, if they ever did. And even if they did they couldn't pull it off anyway, as 2010's womping at the hands of Germany so clearly illustrated.
Let's play this out: If fans saw the central defensive pairing of Mexes and Rami as being something to be exposed, just how England going to do that after the injuries and suspensions? Slide Ashley Young out wide and push Gerrard up, leaving who to partner Scott Parker? That would still leave either Chamberlain or Milner to be in the other wide spot, either unproved or proven mediocre. Walbeck or Carroll would have still been up top, and neither have international credentials. That doesn't exactly scream a flowing, attacking machine, does it?
This is how England had to play it. And they did it well, except for that short period where they had the lead. In that span they were panicked and deep, and it cost them the one goal. But other than that, Joe Hart didn't have much to do. France helped out by being ponderous, unimaginative, and whatever else speaks to an utter French-ness. The fullbacks didn't get forward as much as they could, Nasri was too content to be out wide, Ribery was muted, and Florent Malouda was terrible. Because Florent Malouda is terrible.
My Liverpool heart was smiling at Gerrard and Johnson being the two best England players, if not the best two players on the field altogether. And Jordan Henderson didn't randomly set himself on fire, which is all I'm asking of him this tournament.
The big worries are that England asked so much of their two central midfielders who are on the wrong side of 30, and they'll have to do it again in four days. Against Sweden and Ukraine, England will have to create more, and you wonder where that's coming from. I wouldn't mind seeing Welbeck and Carroll tried in tandom with Young coming in from the left, his more natural position. But he wasn't awful in the hole. In the end, it ends up being a good day for England.
There's something magical about a country's legend, who must've been hanging on specifically to play in this tournament in his home country, coming through. Andriy Shevchenko was arguably the most lethal striker of the 2000's, despite what that awkward phase at Chelsea might say. While with Dynamo and Milan, when he got a look he was automatic. It's been a while since he's been that, or even relevant. But in his country's biggest game in decades, if not ever, he rolled back the clock with the kind of predatory strikes that made him the hero of Ukraine. I don't know if he can duplicate it again this tournament, and I'm not sure it matters. On an occasion that must've rung in the back of his head every time the thought of retirement came up, he gave his country one more memory. Glad I caught it.
Then again, when you're facing as much of a corpse defending you in Olaf Mellberg, it gets easier. Maybe that's England's hope for Friday.