Huge disappointment but England must continue to be brave

In the end, Roy Hodgson and his youthful charges will go down in history for producing the worst showing by an England team at a World Cup. The first England side to go out of the world cup in the group stages since 1958. The first England side ever to lose its first two world cup matches. The stats make for grim reading.

However, this team should be remembered for being the bravest England outfit at a major tournament since Euro 2004. Faced with an immensely challenging task just to qualify from Group D, England went on the offensive. Although the performance against Uruguay was not quite as impressive as the effort against Italy, there were still signs that England are a much improved unit going forward. Wayne Rooney, back in his prefered number 10 role was a constant threat and it was a relief for all concerned to see him finally break his world cup duck. Daniel Sturridge’s presence and pace when running in behind defenders asks questions of opposing teams that England haven’t been able to pose since Michael Owen was in his prime. Raheem Sterling was illuminating in the first half against the Italians and Ross Barkley impressed in both games from the bench. The kids are alright.

There is no doubt that England let themselves down defensively. The suspicion was, even before a ball had been kicked in anger that the back four would be England’s major weakness in this tournament. Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are all very accomplished Premier League performers. However, as a unit they lack that genuine enforcer and organiser that underpins all of the great defences. John Terry’s name will be mentioned repeatedly in the coming weeks but Roy Hodgson should not be condemned for ignoring a player who had turned his back on playing for his country. How Hodgson must wish he had been blessed with the options available to Sven Goran Eriksson who was able to leave Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate out of his starting line up in central defence.

But England’s problems in defence only serve to highlight the importance of continuity for this squad. In the wake of the defeat to Uruguay, FA Chairman Greg Dyke finally said something sensible (as if this world cup hadn’t provided enough shocks!) when he declared that Roy Hodgson’s job would be safe. The manager is contracted until Euro 2016 and for England to be successful that contract must be honoured. With another two years working with the players, Hodgson should be able to iron out the kinks in defence. Either the back four he has now will be stronger for this experience or the development of young players such as John Stones and Luke Shaw will mean that competition for places is a fierce as it was in 2006.

I mentioned on a previous post that the reason for Germany’s success in recent tournaments was the stability garnered from coach and players working together over a sustained period. If Hodgson is allowed to continue then the young players he has nurtured so well over the last two years will be a formidable outfit in France in two years time.

The preparation can begin immediately. The final game in Group D against Costa Rica is almost a free hit for England. How encouraging would it be to see England start with Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? There is room also for Hodgson to show sentimentality which is rare enough in any form of football let alone a world cup. This game will undoubtedly spell the end of the road in international football for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. With 217 caps and 50 goals between them, it would be fitting if both the captain and vice captain were able to bow out on the pitch against Costa Rica. The thought of Gerrard being replaced by Lampard with twenty minutes to go and handing over the captain’s armband whilst both players are applauded by their team-mates is already bringing a nostalgic tear to the eye.

When the qualifiers for Euro 2016 get under way, I would like to see Joe Hart given the captain’s armband. He has not been his usual assured self during this tournament but he has shown at Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini that he responds well to proactive man management. Appointing him captain of a brave young squad could be a masterstroke for Hodgson.

It is important now that England focus on the positives from this campaign. They have taken the game to two quality sides in stifling conditions and come up just short both times. They have finally embraced the attacking philosophies that the rest of Europe had adopted years ago – the days of four four two are over. They will be inevitably criticised for their naivety but it won’t take them long to realise that the same people bemoaning the lack of experience in the squad are the same people who were praising the manager for putting his faith in youth when the squad was announced on the 12th of May. If Hodgson and his players are allowed to stay together then the future looks increasingly bright.

Euro 2016 will mark fifty years of tournament football since England were world champions. In England’s brave new world, that fatalistic number has a pleasant ring to it.

5 reasons for Englands losses this WC.

England’s defeat makes them the first ever Three Lions side to lose their third consecutive World Cup match.

Luis Suarez

You got the impression in the run up to the game that Uruguay were so confident that the Liverpool striker’s mere presence would befuddle England – that they would have fielded him in a mobility scooter if necessary. And sure enough, a month after undergoing keyhole surgery on his knee and almost six weeks since he last played, Suarez needed only two telling contributions to prove them right.

He took his chances superbly in a manner which underlined the fact that England have not, for a very long time, had a player capable of influencing a match single-handedly at an international tournament.

That is the true barometer of the over used phrase “world class” and frankly, none of our players fit that bill.

Dodgy defending

The one nagging doubt which refused to go away during England’s largely successful qualifying campaign was whether the central defenders would be good enough when it came to facing the likes of Suarez at the World Cup.

Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, both decent, honest and hard working lads, always felt more like the best of a bad bunch than the cream of the crop and neither covered himself in glory last night. Jagielka was unable to match the anticipation by Suarez of Edinson Cavani’s fine cross for the first goal, and Cahill was caught in no man’s land as Steve Gerrard inadvertently flicked on Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera’s route one clearance for the second.

Both former England manager Glenn Hoddle and ex international defender Rio Ferdinand described it as “schoolboy defending” from their respective TV sofas and one can imagine John Terry, wherever he is on holiday, kicking his sun lounger in disgust and pondering what might have been.

Lack of adventure

After the opening game against Italy there were encouraging signs that, although beaten, England had at least shown a spirit of adventure both in the team selection and their willingness to get forward. Having been humiliated by Costa Rica, Uruguay appeared jaded and lacking in pace, with a goalkeeper who looked like a man trying to catch a bar of soap fired from a howitzer every time the ball came anywhere near him above waist height.

Even with Suarez and Cavani back in harness in a team which showed five changes, the 2010 semi finalists approached last night’s game with little more than a narrow 8-2 formation which invited England to attack down the flanks.

Unfortunately it was 75 minutes before the penny dropped. Glenn Johnson’s dart down the right after good work by Daniel Sturridge set up Wayne Rooney to finally tap in his first ever World Cup goal after 760 barren minutes on the biggest stage of all. But it was to be a largely isolated incident as the likes of Egidio Arevalo Rios and Alvaro Gonzalez cut off the supply at source.

The enemy within

Uruguay’s goalscoring hero, of course, has recently been voted by his peers and the press as the top performer in the self proclaimed “best league in the world”. All 14 players who represented England in Sao Paulo are also Premier League stars and yet the maxim “the better the devil you know” does not seem to apply to them, while the foreign imports certainly seem to subscribe to the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.

This is the sixth World Cup match in which an English based player has scored against his adopted country (there are no prizes but try to guess the others) and England have never won a single one of those ties. FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s belief that the premier league’s cosmopolitan nature is stifling the national side will strengthen after this latest capitulation.

But does anyone genuinely believe that country will ever again come before club in English football?

Time to say goodbye?

Just about everyone who attended Fabio Capello’s final media conference of the last World Cup campaign came away with the feeling that an era had ended and that this was the time to take risks and look ahead into the future.

The coach had to go, as did many of his senior players, in order for England’s national team to evolve as other nations already had. None of which happened of course.

This time I detect a genuine feeling that the nation believes Hodgson deserves to survive (as do I) – but only as the custodian of a new generation. We must say farewell and thank you to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, James Milner, Rickie Lambert, Ben Foster and possibly even Wayne Rooney.

The time has come for a team built around Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, aided and abetted by Luke Shaw, John Stones, Jon Flanagan and Saido Berahino. With the expansion of Euro 2016 into a 24-team tournament you would expect even a new breed of England players to qualify and even if they failed it would be a price worth paying if it meant they came back stronger for the 2018 World cup.

How many more nights like the one in Sao Paulo can we really take?

A Sweet Defeat or a Bitter Victory?

It seems that no matter what he does, Roy Hodgson will always be damned with the tag of conservatism. Despite throwing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in to Euro 2012, Andros Townsend in to crucial World Cup qualifiers and a host of young players in his final 23, there will always be those who prefer to remember the man who seemed almost deferential to Manchester United during his ill fated reign as Liverpool manager.

England started this world cup as massive underdogs. The announcement of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica was met with a cut throat gesture by FA Chairman Greg Dyke. Ahead of last night’s game with the Azzurri, England supporters were clamouring for Hodgson to throw the youngsters into the deep end to see how well they could swim in the Amazonian humidity. The general consensus was that it will be better for England to crash out of this tournament swinging from the hip as opposed to the plodding, tentative ineptitude of South Africa four years ago.

It was therefore, a pleasant surprise to see Hodgson and England throw caution to the wind last night and start with Liverpool’s highly rated youngster Raheem Sterling. His inclusion illuminated the first half and one early shot from long range that rippled the side netting had the broadcasters convinced that England were one nil ahead.

England’s performance as a whole was by far the most adventurous and enterprising in a major tournament match since the group stages of Euro 2004. Yet England still, agonisingly, lost the game. Herein, lies the catch 22 situation facing Roy Hodgson for the remaining two group games. Had he not started with Sterling and played an extra man in midfield, England might not have been caught out as easily as they were for either of Italy’s goals. Had England sacrificed their adventure for greater stability, the match would almost certainly have ended in a draw. England must beat Uruguay on Thursday night to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages but defeat will see them almost certainly out. Do England continue with their attacking intent and risk defeat or do they go back into their shells? For the supporters there is no debate. Watching England on Saturday night was almost a cathartic experience. There was pride in the team’s performance and a sense that the players were connecting with the fans again after being so detached in South Africa. The feeling among England fans was that the defensive naivety and the defeat could be forgiven because of the courageous aspects of the performance. There is definitely a good way to lose and this was it.

If England continue in this attacking vein on Thursday night and still come up short then so be it. The fans will get behind a team that sets out to entertain. After so many years of seeing England go down with a whimper, it was perversely all the more upsetting to see them lose when playing well, And yet, at the same time, it was undoubtedly more uplifting.

Top 10 promising young talent at the WC

#10 Romelu Lukaku: Belgium

Romelu Lukaku: Belgium
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku showed an example of what’s to come in this summer’s World Cup after scoring a superb solo goal in the 5-1 win against Luxembourg on May 26 in a game that also saw him bag a hat-trick. On loan at Everton from Chelsea last season, the 21-year-old scored 15 goals and made six assists in the Premier League. He’s now scored 32 goals and made 10 assists in his two full campaigns in the English top flight. Belgium are expected to go far in the World Cup, according to ITV, and with striker Lukaku in great form, they could well reach the final stages of the tournament.

#9 Paul Pogba: France

Paul Pogba: France
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is well known but has yet to play in a major international tournament at senior level for France. The 21-year-old joined Juve in 2012 and has gone on to win back-to-back Serie A titles and Supercoppa Italianas, as per Wikipedia. Pogba’s fast rise to glory has been incredible. The talented midfielder won the Golden Ball to go with his FIFA U20 World Cup triumph with France in 2013. He only made his international senior team debut in March that year. Scoring seven goals and making seven assists, while also boasting having made 74 successful dribbles and 48 key passes in Serie A, Pogba is set to play an important part in the France side this summer. Certainly one to watch.

#8 Raheem Sterling: England

Raheem Sterling: England
The Premier League’s 2014 Young Player of the Year nominee Raheem Sterling, who currently plays for Liverpool, is another England hopeful who can really make a difference in this summer’s World Cup. The 19-year-old winger scored nine goals and made five assists for the Reds in the Premier League, and he could be an important impact player for England manager Roy Hodgson.

#7 Joel Campbell: Costa Rica

Joel Campbell: Costa Rica
While Arsenal winger Joel Campbell came to the attentions of many following his superb curled effort for Olympiakos against Manchester United in the Champions League last season, the Costa Rican international has been in incredible form during his loan spell. Campbell, 21, has scored eight goals and made 12 assists for the Greek side. He returns to Arsenal following his temporary spell with Olympiakos but could be the catalyst for the Costa Rica side this summer and could hamper England’s hopes of qualifying from the group stages when the two sides meet in June.

#6 Gerard Deulofeu: Spain

Gerard Deulofeu: Spain
While it can be difficult for newcomers to the Spain squad to force their way into the first team, Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu may be one player to whom manager Vicente Del Bosque looks in the World Cup. The 20-year-old spent last season on loan with Everton, scoring threegoals and making three assists. He quickly built up a reputation for his penchant for trickery to beat his opponent, with 44 successful dribbles made, while proving to be a genuine goal threat, too. While he failed to make the initial 30-man provisional squad, Deulofeu was called up for the pre-tournament friendly against Bolivia and could put himself in the driver’s seat for a place on the plane should anyone pull out. He does have Pedro, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas and Andres Iniesta to contend with for a place in the Spain side, but Deulofeu isn’t there to make up the numbers and could be a successful wildcard this summer.

#5 Memphis Depay: Netherlands

Memphis Depay: Netherlands
Promising PSV Eindhoven winger Memphis Depay is a name to remember. The 20-year-old only made his Netherlands debut in October 2013, but he’s now a player who could play an important part in the side in this summer’s World Cup. Depay has scored an impressive 12 goals and made eight assists in 32 league games. He’s made just a handful of appearances for the Netherlands side but has more than proved he’s ready for the next step.

#4 Mateo Kovacic: Croatia

Mateo Kovacic: Croatia
The lesser-known Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan is perhaps devoid of notoriety but not quality. The 20-year-old Croatian international has featured in all but six of the Nerazzurri’s league games last season. He’s a box-to-box midfielder who drives the ball from deep and into dangerous areas in the final third. Kovacic has made four assists in the league and boasts 71 successful dribbles from midfield. He’s also made 44 tackles and 28 key passes. The Croat played a pivotal part in Inter finishing in a Europa League place, too.

#3 Julian Draxler: Germany

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Julian Draxler: Germany
Germany boast an impressive midfield in their World Cup squad, but Schalke’s Julian Draxler is certainly one of the most exciting. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a good campaign with the Bundesliga outfit, scoring five goals and making seven assists in the league and Europe. Draxler averages more successful dribbles per game than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Barcelona’s Neymar. Such is the strength of the Germany midfield, Draxler could be limited to substitute appearances, but he’s sure to impress when he does get on the pitch.

#2 Ross Barkley: England

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Ross Barkley: England
Everton’s exciting midfielder Ross Barkley is a player who could make the difference for England. Such has been the impressive nature of his performances this season, Barkley has been compared to former England attacking midfielder Paul Gascoigne by his own club manager Roberto Martinez, via ESPN. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a superb breakthrough season with the Toffees, scoring six goals and making 80 successful dribbles in 34 Premier League games from midfield. He’s more than merited his call-up for this summer’s World Cup and will look to make an impression. Fearless Barkley has shown himself to be unfazed by the occasion in games and will certainly get minutes on the pitch for England in the World Cup.

#1 Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast

10 Most Exciting Under-21 Players Named in World Cup Squads - Serge Aurier: Ivory Coast
Ivorian defender Serge Aurier is tipped to have a good World Cup with Les Elephants, as reported on ITV. Last season for French side Toulouse, the 21-year-old scored six goals and made six assists from right-back. He’s deadly going forward, evident with his 191 crosses being made in Ligue 1,  and he’s comfortable in possession, with 1577 passes attempted and 1213 completed.

England Team Preview

The Players

Joe Hart goalkeeper, Manchester City

Glen Johnson defender, Liverpool

Leighton Baines defender, Everton

Steven Gerrard (captain) midfielder, Liverpool

Gary Cahill defender, Chelsea

Phil Jagielka defender, Everton

Jack Wilshere midfielder, Arsenal

Frank Lampard midfielder, Chelsea

Daniel Sturridge forward, Liverpool

10 Wayne Rooney forward, Manchester United

11 Danny Welbeck forward, Manchester United

12 Chris Smalling defender, Manchester United

13 Ben Foster goalkeeper, West Bromwich Albion

14 Jordan Henderson midfielder, Liverpool

15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain midfielder, Arsenal

16 Phil Jones defender, Manchester United

17 James Milner midfielder, Manchester City

18 Rickie Lambert forward, Liverpool

19 Raheem Sterling midfielder, Liverpool

20 Adam Lallana midfielder, Southampton

21 Ross Barkley midfielder, Everton

22 Fraser Forster goalkeeper, Celtic

23 Luke Shaw defender, Southampton

Star man

rooney_1696513a

A toss-up between the captain Steven Gerrard, who until a certain stumble was inspirational for Liverpool, or Wayne Rooney, who needs to rediscover his mojo after a quiet season for Manchester United. Both are big-game players for club and country, and cop much more flak than they deserve.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
John Terry, after smuggling himself into the cargo hold and turning up for England’s first training session in freshly-ironed kit.
Other than David Beckham, Rooney is the only man to have been sent off twice in an England shirt. He also had a pop at his own fans at the last World Cup, incredulous as they were at the laughable dross served up in a goalless draw against Algeria.

The coach

Roy Hodgson: just one of those regular blokes who takes the Tube and tells jokes at half-time, and hardly ever has to regret it. Occasionally wild of bouffant, Roy Hodgson is often likened to an owl. Not the most flattering lookalike but people are called worse and he is considered a wise old bird after all.

Grudge match

England always fancy a rumble with Germany, though in truth the enmity only really goes one way, especially as the highly amused Germans have lasted longer than the English in every single World Cup since 1966. Argentina are a better bet. The Malvinas and Maradona affairs of the 1980s didn’t help but it’s a rivalry that stretches back to the Antonio Rattín debacle of 66, when Argentina’s captain was sent off in the quarter-finals for “violence of the tongue”, and took the best part of 10 minutes to walk off.

Holed up

England have wisely decided against staying in Copacabana, as they did in 1950 to disastrous, sleep-bothering effect. Instead they’re at Rio’s Royal Tulip. Only four stars, which might raise a well-plucked eyebrow or two, but it suggests pragmatism has won out over luxury. How very Roy.

How they qualified
With great difficulty and much anguish, despite not losing a game and scoring more goals than Spain and France put together.

World Cup high
Geoff Hurst still hasn’t had to buy his own pint since 1966. Roger Hunt probably has, though.

World Cup low
Not qualifying in 1974, 1978 and 1994 was pretty bad, but for nation-defining collapse, you can’t beat the 1-0 defeat to Ellis Island in 1950.

Familiar faces
Take your pick. Wayne, Stevie G, Frank, Welbz …

Title odds: 25/1

The stereotype is …
Pampered, overpaid prima donnas who choke under pressure and boot the ball long at every opportunity.

The reality is …
Pampered, overpaid prima donnas who choke under pressure and boot the ball long at every opportunity.
Then there is the encouraging emphasis on youth, quoting the German model. Although deprived of Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling’s effervescence, and his connection with Daniel Sturridge, fills the void rather handily. Similarly Ross Barkley’s growing maturity and Jordan Henderson’s thrusting performances for Liverpool provide options.

What are they known for?
Bagpuss 38 per cent
Prog rock 35 per cent
The Shipping Forecast 19 per cent
Playing Paul Scholes on the left eight per cent

How Google translates the national anthem (into Portuguese)
Deus salve a nossa rainha gracioso, vida longa a nossa nobre rainha, deus salve a rainha.

Duration
Long enough for some nitwit to shout “No surrender to the IRA”.

How to dress like their fans

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Head-to-toe Jacamo for the guys, baggy T-shirt and jeans for the girls. And the odd St George Tribute.

Commentator’s go-to stat
The last man to score for England in a World Cup match? Matthew Upson against Germany, although Frank Lampard was hard done by.

First game line up predictions.

What I predict Roys Team will look like.

Hart

Johnson-Cahill-Jagielka-Baines

-Gerrard-Henderson-

-Milner-Rooney-Lallana-

Sturridge

How I’d set up.

Hart

Probably Johnson-Cahill-Jagielka-Baines

-Gerrard-Henderson-

Lallana-Barkley-Ox (if Fit)

-Sturridge-

Sterling, Lambert and Rooney to come of the bench