Contrary to what Mark “Lawro” Lawrenson thinks, Twitter is a great invention and a lot of good comes out of it. There’s a fair chance that you’re reading this article because of a Twitter link (OK, maybe that’s not a good thing!), a lot of the best sports articles I read are via Twitter links. It also allows people to communicate with like minded souls and chat about what interests them. I’ve “met” plenty of football, NFL and cricket fans via Twitter and had lots of interesting conversations. It’s also simple to use, which is great for an IT ignoramus such as myself.
Naturally enough, Twitter has been a hive of activity during Euro 2012. This is both a good and bad thing. On the plus side, you get some genuinely interesting comments from knowledgeable fans and, if you’re lucky, a few thing to make you laugh. The downside is that you also get a multitude of inane comments and ignorant thoughts. My “favourite” during the last 2 weeks has been the utterly pointless tweets that occur when a major incident happens – “Goal”, “Rooney”, “Good save”, “That was close” etc – I‘m not entirely sure what these add to the piece, or why the tweeter feels the need to tell the world what is painfully obvious.
The build up to the England - Italy game was full of positive tweets from England fans. Seemingly the fortunate victories over Sweden and Ukraine had given people a surge of optimism. "#believe" was a popular hashtag and my pre match timeline was full of "This is our time" and "We can do this". There was the usual abuse of the BBC coverage, but that's been the case throughout the competition, the overwhelmingly feeling as of optimism and even confidence that England would win.
Anthems are a popular source of Tweets at present and this game was no different. The Twitter world seems to love the fact that the England squad "sing" God Save The Queen. Personally, I couldn't give a toss. Ronaldo remains tight lipped during the Portuguese anthem and it doesn't seem to do him much harm. I can't see how singing a Royalist song can improve your performance or your team spirit.
Danielle De Rossi's early blast against the woodwork, drew the usual array of "stating the obvious" tweets. "What a hit", "that was close" and "great strike" were all on my timeline. Surely if I'm watching the game I know it was a great strike and if I'm not watching the game then I don't care! The first 20 minutes were largely controlled by England and the tweets were full of praise - "Best spell of the tournament", "Deserve a goal for this" - and I was in full agreement, it was as impressive as England had looked at a major tournament since 2004.
Unfortunately, the dominance was short lived and Italy soon wrestled control away. There were signs of worry on Twitter as well as some negative comments about a couple of the players. "What is the point of Milner?", "Rooney looks unfit" and "Ashley Young is terrible" were some of the more perceptive comments. Still, people were keeping the faith at half time and the majority of tweeters still believed England could go on and win.
That hope rapidly dwindled during the second half as Italy missed a string of decent chances. The first tweets of "Same old England" occurred around the hour mark and there were numerous calls for Theo Walcott to come on. I could see where they were coming from, both Milner and Young were struggling to get into the game, but I wasn't convinced Walcott was the answer. England's problem was ball retention and closing down the space in midfield. Neither of those things are Walcott's forte. Odd as it seems, Stewart Downing may have been a better bet in the circumstances. Downing is no world beater (or even full back beater!), but he does work hard and can play simple passes. No doubt Twitter would have gone into meltdown had Downing made an appearance! Instead, Walcott appeared and did a great impression of a 65 year old man trapped in a twentysomethings body.
As the game entered Extra Time and England sat deeper and deeper, Twitter was a mix of fair minded resignation - "No complaints when we go out", "Italy far the better team" - and a realisation that England could hang on for penalties. There wasn't a huge amount of annoyance or anger at the situation, just a realisation that England were a long way away from being a top international side.
Of course, there was some optimism that England would prevail in the shootout. Indeed, I thought that would be the case, after all the outplayed team often wins on penalties. Chelsea in the Champions League final and England against Spain at Euro 1996 being 2 prime examples. Unfortunately for England, this time the best team won, and tweeters had no complaints about the result. "Italy deserved it", "Best team won, but Germany will beat them", "got what we deserved" were some of the more generous comments. Others looked for scapegoats, Messrs Rooney and Young coming in for the most abuse. Rooney in particular was singled out for his lacklustre performance - "Why is he an automatic pick?", "drop him for the qualifiers", "looks unfit and overweight".
I had to agree with most of the comments, Rooney was left on, whilst the more impressive Danny Welbeck was sacrificed. The thinking is that Rooney is capable of a moment of inspiration, he can turn the game in an instant. But the reality is that he hasn't done any such thing in a major tournament since Euro 2004. The problem with dropping Rooney is the lack of depth England have up front. Who do you bring in to replace him? Sturridge, Bent, Defoe? It's hardly a glittering array of talent. Besides Rooney is still relatively young. I'd keep him in the side, but he's on a short leash. A strong season for the likes of Welback, Andy Carroll and/or Sturridge and Rooney will see his place under threat.
As for England overall, I think they actually overachieved at Euro2012. If you look at the quality of the 4 performances, then a penalty defeat in a quarter final was better than what they deserved. Some players emerged with credit - Cole, Hart, Lescott - whilst others continued to frustrate - Rooney, Young, Walcott. Hodgson did well with what he had at his disposal, but his tactics in the quarter final were far too negative and just invited pressure.
Overall, the quarter finals didn't quite live up to the high standards of the Group stages and each game had a team employing very negative tactics. Still, it's left us with the best 4 teams in the competition to contest the semi finals. The final word from Twitter is a tweet I posted about half an hour after the final whistle: "Fantastic semi final line up. Should be 2 cracking games. Can't wait!"