Bellingham wonder goal shouldn’t deflect attention from how dire England were

Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham with the celebration
Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham with the celebration (PC: England/X)

Speaking about his wonder goal after the game, Jude Bellingham appeared to be pleasantly divorced from reality. “You’re 30 seconds from going home and having to listen to all the rubbish and feeling like you’ve let people down,” he said. “Playing for England should be the most proud moment of your career but often it’s quite difficult. There’s a really high intense pressure. The fans expect a lot from us regardless of what happened in recent tournaments.”

Presumably, by ‘rubbish’, he meant the avalanche of criticism that has greeted England’s displays in Germany. If the opening-round games were poor, the round-of-16 escape act was terrible beyond description. Had England been eliminated as they looked likely to be before Bellingham’s last-gasp overhead kick, there wouldn’t have been a single hard-luck story. Not one. That’s how bad England were. Rubbish. Garbage. Any synonym would do.

As ever, it comes down to coaching. Gareth Southgate has reached a World Cup semi-final (2018) and a Euro final (2020) with England, but his record against sides in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings is instructive. Of 24 matches against such teams in the eight years that he’s been manager, England have won four. That’s four. Not even a passing grade.

Slovenia, who held England to a draw in the first phase, and Slovakia, who ran rings around them for long periods, are nowhere close to the top 10. If England don’t improve dramatically, an energetic and skilful Switzerland team brilliantly coached by Murat Yakin will rip them apart in the last eight, as they did Italy in the round of 16.

It was especially instructive to compare England’s non-performance with Spain’s 4-1 romp over Georgia later. Like England, Spain, too, fell behind, to a Georgia side that always looked threatening on the counter. But Spain had a playing style and a method that they trusted. They worked their way back into the game, equalised through a long-range strike from Rodri and then totally bossed the second half.

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Jude Bellingham vs Slovakia
Jude Bellingham vs Slovakia (PC: England/X)

Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal on the flanks were full of running and tricks, and will give Germany’s full-backs sleepless nights ahead of their quarterfinal. Spain played as tournament favourites should, while England once again were a rabble – no plan, no coherent style, and ultimately reliant on individual quality to pull through.

It’s hard to fathom how a team with the talent of Bellingham, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden at the top end of the pitch can be so staggeringly bad. Declan Rice was totally eclipsed in midfield by Kobbie Mainoo, who was just about the only bright spark on a dismal evening. Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier were appalling, while there seemed to be zero understanding between the centre-back pair of Marc Guehi and John Stones.

Cole Palmer and Ivan Toney, who was the latest of late subs, immediately improved things when they came on, which made one wonder just why Southgate is so reluctant to embrace change. Trent Alexander-Arnold in place of Walker is an obvious tweak for the quarterfinal, while Foden and Saka have also done little to keep their places. Despite his winning goal, Kane has been statuesque and ineffective for the most part. Toney or Ollie Watkins would surely ask more questions with their strength and movement.

Ultimately, though, football is always about the man on the sidelines. It’s a coach’s game, and time after time, Southgate has fallen short. Instead of turning water into wine, he keeps ending up with dirty dishwater. With such a talented collection of players, that’s almost unforgivable.

Bellingham was understandably pumped by his goal and the great escape. But before taking aim at the critics and fans, England would do well to look within.

Also Read: Bellingham’s wonder goal saves England before Kane nets winner