England were heavily criticised for their performance in last week’s 4-0 win over Malta, the team ranked 190 in the world, in World Cup qualifying last Friday.
Statistically, however, England’s record in qualifying competitions is excellent.
With France held 0-0 in Paris by Luxembourg, the world number 136, should England get more credit for their record against lower-ranked nations?
England have lost just six qualifiers, for World Cup or European Championships, since 2000. The last of them came in 2009 and the most recent home loss was 2007. They qualified for Euro 2016 with a 100 per cent record. On the face of it, this is an excellent record.
Why the criticism?
Too often England have failed to deliver at major tournaments. The team have not really competed, or even looked like competing, in the big events since Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. They failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and they have not delivered in any of the major events since. Expectation has slumped as a result and, consequently, it is not a surprise that a lacklustre display against significantly inferior opposition should be seized upon.
Is this fair?
Perhaps not. After all, teams can only beat what is put in front of them and England have been efficient in seeing off qualifying opponents. This was something that seemed to be beyond France on Sunday, despite a team boasting some of the world’s costliest or most-talked about players in Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Thomas Lemar and Antoine Griezmann. Ultimately, however, England are judged on their performances in major tournaments and even their usual benchmark of the quarter-finals has been beyond them in recent times. The last-16 exit to Iceland at Euro 2016 is regarded as a particular low and until the memories of that are firmly banished, the critics will stay on their backs.