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England’s long-ball tactics against Ukraine – fair or foul?

Sep 12, 2013, 9:38 AM EST

FBL-WC2014-UKR-ENG Getty Images

Is it acceptable for a national team to play long-ball?

That’s the question facing Roy Hodgson following England’s display in Tuesday’s 0-0 World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.

Following the result, the England boss faced a wave of criticism from former England international, Gary Lineker, who called the Three Lions display “woeful” and “awful.”

Over Twitter, Lineker asked followers: “What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt? When you see England pass it like they’ve never been introduced to each other, it does make you wonder why [Michael] Carrick doesn’t feature.”

Later Lineker took a tongue-and-cheek approach, writing: “We’re seeing a lot of one-touch football. England have a touch. Ukraine have a touch. England have a touch….” The banter continued when Linker fired a warning shot the world’s best, “Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina et al, you’re in big trouble!”

When informed of the criticism Hodgson explained he thought it was a “very high-quality” performance and that he was happy.

“I cannot comment on what people think at home, but I don’t think that is a fair comment on our performance,” Hodgson said. “If the expectations upon us are now so great we come to places like Ukraine and are expected to roll teams over, it will be difficult for us ever to get a good result.”

Let’s consider the circumstances.

Heading into the match England were top of the group, one point ahead of Ukraine and even on points with Montenegro, who was idle. With home matches against Poland and Montenegro still to come, England could not afford to drop points to Ukraine. Mykhalo Fomenko’s side had already shown their quality in last year’s 1-1 draw at Wembley and with the Olympic Stadium filled with 70,000 screaming Ukrainians, a potential buzz-saw awaited the Three Lions.

So Hodgson gave his men their orders.

“Did we play longer balls forward early?” the England boss asked. “Yes, we did. We didn’t want to play out from the back and invite pressure.” With regards to Lineker’s comments Hodgson claimed he was “surprised anyone who has played for England, captained England and played in games of this nature can be that critical.”

He shouldn’t be. Hodgson employed a Route 1 approach and it was anything but a “very high-quality” performance .

But it worked. It was a tactic, a means to an end and a move that one could argue was not so different than Jose Mourinho’s decision two weeks ago to have Chelsea sit back and play for the draw against Manchester United.

Style of play is important and most would agree that England’s is in need of an overhaul. At the end of the day, however, the game remains a results based business.

  1. The Ginge - Sep 12, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    Of course it’s acceptable. This isn’t a Candyland footballing utopia where everyone plays the most aesthetically beautiful football. Coaches are paid a ton of money to get wins, or in Hodgson’s case, get results and qualify England for the World Cup. The media are so full of crap with their whining and complaining about the style of play, especially since it’s pretty darn clear that England aren’t capable of playing this mythical brand of football the pundits would like to see.

  2. dfstell - Sep 12, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    I swear….I don’t understand all the hand-wringing about playing long balls. It’s totally acceptable if you are facing a team that is pressing you in the midfield or your own defensive third. It’s also a fine strategy if you have decent target forwards and good wingers. All of that defines England pretty well.

    If a team is being pressed on the road, it’s completely legit for a defender who is being pressed who isn’t presented with an immediate outlet to just boot it long. It’d be nice if they work it out beforehand, “If I don’t see something right away, I’m going to play a long ball that switches the field.”

  3. rphillish - Sep 12, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    The only tactics that aren’t acceptable are the ones that lose the game.

  4. medic0nduty - Sep 12, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    Tactics are not chosen because of their aesthetic appeal. Tactics are chosen because they work. If long ball works for England, then they should by all means play long ball.

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