Saturday, 21 June 2014

England Fall Short With A Match To Spare

 As it turns out, Greg Dyke's cut-throat gesture was accurate all along. The England chairman's worst fears in terms if results were realised, as successive 2-1 defeats to Italy and Uruguay put paid to hopes of his troops finally punching above their weight. Here is Queen's University Belfast Student's Union's reaction. Not everyone was supporting England, I can tell you that!

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Let's be honest, I don't think anyone really expected anything different. Putting money on victories in either match would have been throwing your money away, but England in major competitions always elicit the most irrational of feelings and predictions. Draws to Ecuador and Honduras (who themselves both put on quite a decent show last night) should have raised alarms that this was a team on a hiding to nothing.

Pride can still be salvaged. Victory against Costa Rica would be welcome, in a 'doing what Italy and Uruguay failed to do' sort of way. It will also give Roy Hodgson an excuse to drop the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, to truly throw off the shackles of an expectant nation, and experiment ahead of the qualification process for Euro 2016. Treating it as an extra friendly would be a bonus, seeing as England managers never have a great deal of time with their players. Wallowing in self-pity should be kept to a minimum - the work starts here for two years down the line.

As it happens, there is really no need for the usual cat-calls and 'root-and-branch reviews' that have dogged previous England sides in the past decade. Aside from the occasional ropey sub, I think it is fair to say Hodgson did all he could. It isn't his fault John Terry's antics have rendered him un-selectable and in early retirement. Michael Carrick and Ashley Cole however, are possibly players he might have used, and would not have taken the place of any up-and-coming youngsters. In hindsight, Gerrard and Baines would have been the ones to make way. We may yet see the retirement of Gerrard in the coming days.

Rooney came in for more than his fair share of criticism over these opening two games, yet he provided the assist for one goal, and scored the other. He was arguably the best player against Uruguay - deployed in a more central role. His vast experience is vital to England's attack, amidst all the furore over Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. A fluid interchangable forward line is emerging, and even Ricky Lambert may have a role to play in the coming years - his intelligence and thunderous finishing ability was criminally under-used.

The most pressing concern remains the defence. Hodgson, and whoever succeeds him, will be praying that Phil Jones starts to emerge as the power-house defender everyone prematurely wet themselves over in excitment on joining Manchester United. Jack Rodwell also needs to re-discover his mojo, and a place in someone's starting eleven. Both those players could yet be a key part of England's future, along with Luke Shaw, and whoever eventually takes the place of Glen Johnson.

The effort was there, but like most England appearances at major tournaments, the organisation was not. Hodgson will probably be given a stay of execution, but a victory against Costa Rica is a must if he wants to inspire hope that there are better days ahead.

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