England 1 Mexico 2; Familiar grievances

Sunderland's Duncan WatmoreSunderland's Duncan Watmore

How disappointing, yet how familiar.

England’s Toulon squad lost to Mexico last night, surrendering the advantage given to them by Duncan Watmore in the first-half and giving away two second period goals to the Central Americans.

There were positives - as there have been in all of their games so far - but last night was notable for just how uncanny a resemblance it bore to so many English defeats of the past.

A good start; an early goal; a couple of missed chances; an opponent seizing the momentum; defeat.

Watmore’s opener really came from nothing.  The young Sunderland midfielder, so impressive in Toulon, ghosted into the gap between centre-back and goalkeeper to meet a bouncing through-ball and head England into the lead.

Before and after the goal, the signs had been largely encouraging: Chelsea’s John Swift had been elegant and impressive down the left-hand side, Chuba Akpom had missed a good early chance when one-on-one, and Matty Grimes had been influential through the middle.  Before half-time, England actually created one of the sequences of the tournament, with a glorious bit of interplay between Swift and Birmingham’s Demarai Gray presenting Akpom with a tough opportunity at the back-post which he could only slash high and wide.

And then came the decline which, sad to say, felt inevitable.

Raul Gutierrez, the Mexican coach, introduced Armando Zamorano and Angel Zaldivar at half-time and the substitutes provided a momentum change which England couldn’t cope with.

Make no mistake, Mexico have a talented squad in the South of France, but it was the manner in which they were able to show that against England which was so disappointing.  As seems to have become the hallmark of all the FA’s teams at recent tournaments, Aidy Boothroyd’s side looked porous in midfield, allowing the Mexicans to move swiftly and easily from one end of the pitch to the other and, when they did retrieve possession, reverted to direct, ball-surrendering passes out of their own zone.

This happens so often it’s almost a cliche; England, at all levels, have to be smarter.  True, Boothroyd has had little time with this group and can’t be reasonably expected to conjure tactical cohesion out of thin air, but - given the talent at his disposal - it’s reasonable to expect a more solid end product.  The defensive shape is too lose, the advanced pressing is much too haphazard, and England’s inability to keep the ball and protect a winning position was, and has been in all three games, very dispiriting.

There are positives, yes, but only of the superficial variety and only those which relate to how far these individual players might go in the future.  Watmore has had an outstandingly productive tournament so far, Akpom looks like a star in the making, and Brentford’s Moses Odubajo, Wolves’ Kortney Hause and Chelsea’s Lewis Baker will all, presumably, have very fine careers, but this team, as always seems to be the case at national level, aren’t quite the sum of their impressive parts.

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