Have a look down the line when the national anthems are being played at the Estadio da Luz tonight. Look at the Croatians. Six foot plus, six foot plus, six foot plus... Then compare them with the English team. Five foot this, five foot that.
When it comes to international football England are a short team. Football still prides itself as a sport in which anyone, of any size, can find a niche. Unlike basketball, gridiron and, increasingly, rugby union. But the fact remains that the game is becoming more and more athletic and players are getting bigger.
Except for the England team. Which is ironic given England is the home of the long-ball, put-it-in-the-mixer, big centre-forward and even bigger centre-half stereotype. Not any more. Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville are all below six foot and David Beckham, Frank Lampard and John Terry just about make it if they stand up straight. Only Sol Campbell and Stephen Gerrard of the outfield players are six foot plus, and then only by two inches.
This may seem like an irrelevant observation but for all the tactical sophistication of the modern game, for all the long hours on the training ground planning slick passing moves, set-pieces remain a prime source of goals.
This is particularly true at the level of the European Championship finals because of the quality of delivery. Already England have had to deal with the flight and guile of Zinedine Zidane and Hakin Yakin. Tonight, against Croatia, it is the turn of Serie A-based Milan Rapaic.
Steve McClaren, England coach, said: "We are not a big team so we have to be organised and have players who will attack the ball. It is important not to give away too many free-kicks. We gave away too many against Switzerland and the delivery was very good but we kept a clean sheet."
Much of this was due to Campbell and Terry, England's centre-halves, who won most of the balls pumped into England's box. Terry said: "It's up to us to win the ball. Sometimes the player we are marking will try and take us away from the danger area. That is when we have to be organised and talk to each other. We usually make an instant decision to man-mark or to go zonal. Then it is a case of attacking the ball. It helps to have David James in goal. It is good to have a goalkeeper who wants the ball and who you know is going to come and claim it. Even if that means I occasionally get a punch in the head from him."
This lack of collective height is one reason why Emile Heskey was brought on late in the match with France. It was unfortunate that he then conceded the crucial free-kick.
Terry missed that match though injury but admits he was among the players who were riled by the French victory celebrations afterwards. It brought back memories of the last European Championships when the French players at Chelsea marked their victory by returning to Stamford Bridge in their international team shirts puffing big cigars.
"It gives me an added incentive to try and ensure we play them again in the final, but win this time," said Terry.
Terry will be up against one of the few players to best him last season in Dado Prso, the Rangers striker, who scored against Terry when playing for Monaco in the European Cup semi-final.
Prso has since been saying he will repeat the treatment but Terry responded: "I learned a lot from that match and I hope to put that experience to good use. But I will leave my talking until after the match."
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- Italian Football
- Michael Owen
- Paul Scholes
- Premier League
- Sol Campbell
- Stephen Carter
- Steve McClaren
- UEFA Champions League
- Wayne Rooney
- Zinedine Zidane