Toothless England lambasted for familiar failings
LONDON (Reuters) - If England coach Roy Hodgson's plan was to lower expectations as the business end of Euro 2016 approaches then it worked a treat, judging by the scathing reaction to his side's 0-0 draw with Slovakia in St Etienne on Monday.
Hodgson made six changes to his starting line-up for their final Group B game, benching the likes of skipper Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli to rotate his squad, but despite overwhelming possession his side offered precious little creativity.
It meant they ended the group phase with three goals from three games, one of them deep in stoppage time to earn a 2-1 victory over surprise group winners Wales.
Hodgson came under particular fire on Tuesday, with British newspapers calling his selection gamble a failure. Others suggested it had bordered on arrogance.
Several back pages screamed "Second Rate" while another labelled England "Toothless Lions".
The performance against Slovakia was described as 'confused' -- an adjective neatly summed up by one graphic illustrating England's 'touch map' like a swirling ball of red wool in the centre of the pitch with few incursions into the danger area.
After the euphoria of Daniel Sturridge's last-gasp winner against Wales last Thursday the mood was "here we go again" on Tuesday with England's path to the latter stages of the tournament now looking treacherous.
While a match against the runner-up in Group F, likely to be Iceland or Hungary, although possibly Portugal, should be winnable, a quarter-final against hosts France in Paris is now a distinct possibility.
England's failure to shine in the group stage of a tournament is nothing new.
In Brazil two years ago they scored two goals in group play, at Euro 2012 they managed five and at the 2010 World Cup they also managed a miserly two.
While England's passing has improved from the old days of 'lump it forward to a burly striker' when it comes to thinking outside the box, Hodgson's squad appear sadly lacking.
Slovakia erected a wall in front of the their goal and England chiselled away with blunt instruments -- as they did against Russia in the first game and for much of the time against Wales in the second.
As for the defence, former Arsenal stalwart Lee Dixon, summing up for ITV, said: "So far I've learned nothing about it."
England's potential route to the final will change all that with France, world champions Germany and an impressive Italy all in their half of the draw now.
It was not all doom and gloom though.
Former England keeper Peter Shilton said the tournament starts now.
"I wouldn't go for all the criticism because England have controlled every game," he told the BBC.
"Let's not get too downbeat. There are plenty of positives."
England's former Rugby World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward also chimed in with a note of positivity.
"Massive overreaction to last night -- qualify and move on." he said on Twitter. "Nobody will want to play England, prize is winning not qualifying, well done Roy."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)