It might not have been pretty, but England not only got out of their group—they won it.
Yes, France and Sweden might have imploded spectacularly. Yes, Ukraine appeared to be weighed down by the expectations of their fans, and their lack of world-class players. And, yes, England’s performances might be described as “functional”, if one were to be unkind.
But, they are through, and, as such, it’s time to grade the performances of England’s players during the group stage.
Joe Hart has been far from perfect—one could argue that he was at fault for Samir Nasri’s goal against France, and he hardly covered himself in glory during the game against Sweden.
But, he has a calmness and an authority that England have missed since, perhaps, David Seaman’s retirement. He has already produced a number of quality saves, and will surely only grow as the tournament progresses.
Regularly cited as a weak link within the English defence, Glen Johnson has acquitted himself with a reasonable amount of aplomb so far in the tournament. Better going forward than defensively, the worry remains that he will be exposed at some point in the group stage, but, at present, it’s hard to argue that he’s done much wrong.
After a stirring season with Chelsea, Ashley Cole hasn’t really set the Euros on fire quite yet. While Glen Johnson has often had a reasonably defensive player in front of him, Cole has usually played behind the more attack-minded Ashley Young, who has frequently left him exposed. If England are serious about winning the tournament, they need to get more out of Cole, who is clearly one of the best players in the squad.
For years, the debate has raged within England about how to play Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard together on the same team. The answer, which this tournament has belatedly provided, is quite simple—they really can’t play together effectively. Free of Lampard, Gerrard finally seems to play for England like he plays for Liverpool.
He has shown a level of tactical discipline and maturity in his performances that belie the “Stevie Me” epithet that his detractors have often thrown at him. Gerrard has produced at least two, if not three, world-class performances in the group-stage, and has an outside shot at player of the tournament honors as it currently stands. More of the same, please.
It had to be him, didn’t it? The major moment of controversy that the English team has faced thusfar at the controversy, and John Terry was at the cente of it. It’s not, however, Terry’s fault that UEFA still have introduced goal line technology, or that the referees behind the goal-line seemingly do nothing. If anything, his goal-line clearance against Ukraine showed just how good Terry has been at the tournament so far. In a defence which has often looked a little shaky, Terry has stood firm. Whatever else might be said about him, he has risen to the occasion so far in the tournament.
Theo Walcott has had a distinctly mixed tournament so far. He has not yet started a game, and, in the match against Sweden, several players appeared worryingly reticent to pass to him. However, he was also the spark that might have saved England’s tournament.
Having thrown a one goal lead away against Sweden, Walcott came on as a sub and led the comeback that would see England win the game. The challenge for Walcott has always been consistency. He does not want to be known as a super-sub, but, at the moment, that seems exactly the right role for him in the squad.
Carroll never was, and never will be, a 35 million pound player. But he does a very specific, if limited, job for the teams that he plays for, and he can do it very well on occasion. Against Sweden, he led the line to reasonable effect for ninety minutes and scored an important goal. Against Ukraine, he was less effective, but by no means terrible in his shorter time on the field. A useful option to have off the bench, he has shown that he does not look entirely out of place at this level during the tournament so far.
A winning goal against Ukraine doesn’t hide the fact that he didn’t do much else of note during the game. Rooney has a lot to make up for after his moment of madness that ruled him out of the first two group-stage games. While much has been written about Mario Balotelli, it could be argued that Rooney has just as much potential to self-destruct as to score a winning goal.
He has not consistently played well for England since Euro 2004—the knockout stage games of this tournament may finally be a place for him to rectify this situation, after a middling start to his campaign.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the England squad so far out of the players that have regularly played. After a good, it not great, first season at Manchester United, Ashley Young sparkled in England’s pre-tournament friendlies. But he has not carried this luster through into the Euros, and has not been the attacking threat that many in England were hoping.
Young must improve considerably if he is to keep his place in the starting XI.
After a tremendous title-winning season at Manchester City, where his performances were overshadowed by that of his teammate Vincent Kompany, Lescott has looked a little unsure of himself in Ukraine.
A few notable blunders in the opening match against France balanced out his goal that had put England ahead. He has not, by any means, been terrible, but he will need to improve if England are going to keep a clean sheet against Italy.
James Milner has had perhaps the most thankless task in the England team in this tournament. Because of Glen Johnson’s frequent defensive mishaps, Johnson has been asked to act as a monstrous hybrid comprised of a holding midfielder and a winger. It’s may not be his fault that he has not set the tournament on fire, but one can’t escape the feeling that he has done very little, even in his limited role.
Going into the knockout rounds, it will be interesting to see whether Hodgson gambles with a more attacking player on the flanks, or whether he will stick to his generally cautious ways with Milner on the wing.
"Solid, but not spectacular” could sum up Scott Parker’s entire career, and his performances in the group stages so far have been no exception. He has been an able partner to Steven Gerrard, but it has been instructive to see Parker line-up next to a world-class midfielder after his season with Spurs.
Simply put, Parker is a functional player who does a specific job for the team. He is a cog, albeit a very important one, and one does wonder whether his overall lack of world-class ability will be shown up in the knockout stages. Still, so far, he’s done well.
Chamberlain’s performance against France was solid but by no means spectacular. He is best when he has runners in front of him, and England’s defensive performance in that game frequently meant he had nobody to pass to once he’d gotten forward.
Still, it was a performance that belied his age, and showed what a massive prospect Chamberlain is. At present, this might be a tournament too early for him—but he has shown in the group stage that he will not let down the team when called upon. One has the suspicion that he may produce a moment of real class before the tournament ends, but even if he doesn’t, he can be proud of the way he acquitted himself during the group stage.
England’s secret weapon? Maybe. For all the talk of Rooney and Carroll, Welbeck has done a superb job up-front for England during the tournament so far. His thankless running in attack during the game against France prevented England from being completely dominated. And his back-heeled winner against Sweden was a moment of cheeky brilliance that one all too rarely sees from England.
He has acquitted himself superbly during the tournament so far, and may well be a decisive factor in England’s remaining games.
Martin Kelly, Jordan Henderson, Leighton Baines, Robert Green, Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka, Jermain Defoe, Jack Butland, and Stuart Downing all receive no grade for either not playing, or for playing too little to be fairly considered for a mark.
Good thing England took Downing along, eh?