Most football analysts, commentators and pundits have expended considerable energy on evaluating what the consensus within the global footballing public has determined as the favourites for UEFA Euro 2012: acres of paper and serious screen real estate has concentrated on the squads and tactics of nations such as Spain and Germany, with the odd reference to countries such as France, Italy and Russia thrown in for good measure. But we at Mediolana have discerned an equally fascinating topic of discussion, illustrated by that most curious of contenders, England: the growing importance of infinitesimal, barely-discernible margins in determining success and failure.
To date, England have played two matches at these finals (8th June 2012 – 1st July 2012, Poland and Ukraine): an opening encounter against France (11th June 2012) and last night’s second fixture, an extremely tense game against the Zlatan Ibrahimović-defined Sweden. In England’s first match, they were outshot by their French counterparts in terms of efforts on target by a ratio of 15:1, yet the final score was somehow 1-1. Against Sweden, England needed the assistance of a quite inexplicable error from a goalkeeper with over 90 international caps in order to come back from 2-1 down and almost-certain elimination. Yet at the end of both these games, England were unbeaten with four points on the board and an at least fair chance of proceeding to the knockout stages of the tournament.
A comparison with Group D rivals Sweden is instructive. Sweden convincingly led Ukraine in their first assignment and were by all accounts most unfortunate to come away from the match with a loss; the Swedes also mounted a terrific comeback against England in the first third of the second half, again constructing a winning position in difficult circumstances. But at the time of writing, they are one of only two sides whose removal from Euro 2012 is assured.
How has this state of affairs arisen? Attention to (and luck pertaining to) the tiniest of details appears to be determining destinies. Had England not benefitted from manager Roy Hodgson’s exceptionally astute utilisation of pacy (and mostly inconsistent) substitute Theo Walcott – one fringe player out of twenty-two squad members – large sections of the UK media would doubtless already be baying for his blood; had Sweden captain Ibrahimović given his team a first-half lead against Ukraine instead of seeing his header trickle agonisingly against a post and out of play, the Scandinavians might well be preparing for the quarter-finals instead of flying back home for an extended summer of leisure. Razor-thin success/failure margins are likely to have a very large say in the ultimate destination of the Henri Delaunay Trophy this summer.