Critics were coming out of the woodwork during England's scoreless draw with Slovakia on Monday, a result that saw them finish second in their Euro 2016 group behind a Wales side that ran rampant over Russia to rise to first place. Before going too far down that rabbit hole, though, there's another factor to consider -- finishing second is probably better for England in the long run of the tournament.
Finishing second in their group does put them in the same part of the knockout rounds bracket as France, with a possible date in the quarterfinals beckoning. But France are actually a pretty decent matchup for England -- Les Bleus don't press high enough to disturb England's shaky defenders, and their own questionable defenders might have problems with England's pace up top. They're a better opponent to face than an awakening Belgium or a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal. When critics claim that England "lacked inspiration" or were too poor against a Slovakia side who just wanted to avoid losing, they're not looking at the bigger picture.
England also wasn't negative -- they demonstrated a willingness to go for the win when chances were there, but not at the cost of over-exposing themselves to a Slovakia counterattack that had been fairly effective against Wales and Russia.
It wasn't the best performance we've seen from England of late, perhaps, but on a whole they actually played just fine. They held the majority of possession, and had basically every big chance of the match, as shown by the Expected Goals map for the day's action:
xG map for #SVK-#ENG. Lots of low xG shots late, but earlier, more big chances than against #RUS and #WAL combined. pic.twitter.com/yYaP4pHQCZ— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 20, 2016
By all rights, England should have won despite a fairly conservative approach to the match, but some poor luck with finishing and a good performance in goal from Matús Kozácik left it as a draw. England could have pressed their advantage harder than they did, but that would have left them more exposed and opened them up to risks they didn't want to take, so they kept rolling with the chances they had coming to them naturally. Given the matchup and the circumstances, that made absolute perfect sense and does the job just fine.
Was it sexy, free flowing attacking play? No. Was it as dominant a display as England are capable of? No. But it was exactly what England needed from this game, and it showed wonderful awareness of the situation and its consequences that we don't always see exhibited in international tournaments. Now England are positioned for a deep run in Euro 2016, which is exactly what their fans want, even if Monday's result left them underwhelmed.