Fabio Capello blamed fatigue after England's 2-2 draw at Wembley on Saturday. "It is not my idea they are really tired. You can see on the pitch," he said, which translates from his idiosyncratic English to everyday language as: "I'm not making this up you know, you can see it for yourself. They're knackered".
We could. As they tried and failed to close down Switzerland in the final 10 minutes England's players looked leaden-footed and drained, physically and mentally.
Capello added: "I told you that during the training, they trained one hour really well, but the game is one-hour-and-a-half. The game we played in Switzerland [in September, won 3-1], the game we played in Wales [in March, won 2-0], we pressed, we won back the ball quickly. This time, this game, it was difficult. When you lose the ball, you need to win back the ball. We spend a lot of time [trying] to win back the ball. We are not so fresh. When we have the ball it is difficult because if you run 60kph, and others run 100kph, it is difficult to pass through. [So you make] passes back."
So concerned was Capello he did not use his third substitution until the 78th-minute as he feared a player would get cramp. Even then, he said, it was "a risk". But Euro 2012 is in the summer. Will he not face the same problem next year? "I don't know. We will try to find a solution. I hope so. The problem is not quality, it is energy."
It has long been accepted that England's footballers are tired in the summer after a long domestic and European season, and that the problem is made worse by a style of play which involves a lot of running after the ball and is poorly suited to warm weather. It is why Michel Platini once described English footballers as "lions in winter, lambs in summer," and yet results do not back this up and John Terry (left) said after Saturday's game: "We're certainly not going to use an excuse like that."
Since the turn of the Millennium – during which time most leading teams have regularly competed extensively in Europe as well as at home - England have played 133 internationals, winning 76, losing 25, which works out at winning 57.1 per cent, losing 18.7 per cent.
Thirty-two of these matches have been in June, most at tournaments which have all finished in failure to various degrees. Yet England have won 19 (57.6 per cent) and lost five (15.2 per cent). In a nutshell, England, tired they may be, nevertheless play marginally better in June than during the rest of the year.
It is not the only unexpected statistic. While it is no surprise that England are ordinary in August (rusty), but strong in September (still fresh, but in the groove) they are excellent in April and May, but poor in November.
The impressive May results are not entirely due to facing pre-tournament cannon fodder like Iceland and Jamaica, they include fixtures against Brazil and away to the United States. One factor is that at the end of the season an England manager gets more time to work with his players and develop a cohesion that was lacking on Saturday – hardly surprising given Capello has used 37 players in nine matches this season, including seven different centre-half combinations.
The balance Capello has to strike, should England qualify for Euro 2012, is between making his players do the necessary hours on the training pitch, and allowing them much-needed rest.
Capello may, incidentally, be cheered by another surprise statistic. Despite Saturday's draw his win-percentage remains higher than any previous England manager at 64.8 per cent, ahead of Sir Alf Ramsey (61.1 per cent) and Glenn Hoddle (60.7 per cent).
Darren Bent's miss: Was it England's worst ever?
Brazil 1-0 England, World Cup, group stage, 1970
Following a mix-up in the Brazilian defence, the ball falls to Jeff Astle, on his favoured left foot and completely unmarked near the penalty spot, but the West Bromwich striker hurriedly skews his shot wide. England went on to qualify from the group behind Brazil.
England 0-0 Spain, World Cup second round, 1982
Having come on as a substitute with England needing two goals to reach the semi-finals, Kevin Keegan squandered a free header from six yards out. It was the last time Keegan played for England.
Argentina 2-1 England, World Cup quarter-final 1986
With three minutes of the game remaining, and England needing an equaliser to send the game into extra time, John Barnes sends in a cross from the left, which goalkeeper Nery Pumpido fails to deal with, leaving Gary Lineker to dive in from three yards out. However, confronted by two defenders, the ball evades the striker, who picks up an injury in the process.
England 0-0 Spain (England won 4-2 on penalties), Euro '96 quarter-final
Deep into the second half, and after a fine counter-attacking move, Paul Gascoigne crosses low into the area for Alan Shearer, who slides in to meet the cross four yards out for what looked like a certain goal, but somehow he hits the ball over the bar. It did not knock Shearer's confidence too much, however; he finished the tournament as top scorer.
And the most agonising...
England 1-1 Germany (Germany won 6-5 on penalties), Euro '96 semi-final
With the game stretched in extra time, Shearer volleys a cross into the area past goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. The advancing Gascoigne desperately stretches out a leg, but misses the ball by inches. England go on to memorably lose on penalties.Reuse content