The future is bright for England despite worst World Cup since 1958

June 22, 2014 5:25 pm

The curtain has descended prematurely on another international campaign for the England squad and the British media have already started delegating blame for their failure, myself included. There is, however, a huge difference between this exit and all other previous World Cup failures in my lifetime; I feel optimistic and I have a certain sense of pride. The name of England propping up Group D with a -2 goal difference and 0 points beside it doesn’t begin to tell the full story of our campaign. Individuals can and will be targeted but one point over-arches everything, which I will make later.

Hodgson remains the right man for the job

I want to start off by congratulating Roy Hodgson for being bold and audacious enough to start some of the young talent available to him. We put so much pressure on England managers to change things up and he has done so without being too overzealous. His predecessors, Steve McLaren and Fabio Capello, didn’t blood new talent nearly enough; so to see  Hodgson get the likes of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge playing so well with minimal time is an achievement in itself. He is now halfway through his protracted England reign and he has done some magnificent work building towards the future of the international side that we should only admire not criticise. We can judge Hodgson after Euro 2016, when a decision has to made on his future, but until then let him continue the great work he is doing behind the scenes.Brazil v England - International Friendly

We’ve played some of the best football I’ve borne witness to as well. At the last three World Cups, and even further back towards the era of Graham Taylor, we’ve tended to play long, direct football, with a now infamous tendency to play the ball to your nearest center back to wind one up and send it big. Funnily enough it never really worked. Under Hodgson’s guidance we’ve been playing our best football since Mexico 1986; this isn’t to say we aren’t the finished article. A lot more work needs to be done on choreographing some slick passing moves to use in matches and attacking chemistry. I don’t expect anything as telepathic as Sturridge and Suarez but sometimes it felt like the front four wasn’t always on the same wavelength. This can be solved with more training and more games together. I consider our performances to be more like the type Argentina have been putting in as opposed to Costa Rica there are spurts of individual genius but the team cohesion is lacking mainly due to a lack of options.

I feel like the blame is going to fall on him for some of the poor performances of the players he chose though. Wayne Rooney was totally abject over the two games, and Steven Gerrard’s error against Uruguay lead to the goal which saw us eliminated. Similarly, Phil Jagielka has been under fire for being error prone, and Glen Johnson just isn’t a long term solution to our right-back problem. It has to be said that Roy can only work with what he has, Johnson was the only natural right-back available, Jagielka was the best of limit center back options and when Gerrard looked tired in that Uruguay game Wilshire and Milner are the only other options to partner Henderson.

Individuals show great promise

Four of the eleven starting players have made a huge impression. Sturridge looked sharp and energetic; always looking to do something that would cause the opposition defense problems, and he worked the channels well when he had to. If I had to make one criticism he didn’t get in behind the defense enough but he needs to be fed in a way that allows him to do that and that didn’t happen enough.

Raheem Sterling looked lethal against Italy. His shot in the opening stages had England on their feet, only for the crushing realisation that it was the wrong side of the net that the ball had nestled in. Left, right and centre; he was lethal all over the pitch. The pass which really made Sturridge’s goal was sublime, hushing critics who lament his perceived lack of end product. Again, not the finished article, but by the next World Cup, he should be one of our most crucial players should he continue his development at the rate he has.

Gary Cahill was monstrFIFA-2014-World-Cup-England-Squads-Team-The-Three-Lions-Chances-in-Tournamentous at the back, leading a very inexperienced line with minimal experience himself, making vital interception upon crucial header upon pivotal tackle. At the age of 28 though, he is in his prime, but I could definitely see him at the heart of our defence once more in Russia, and I would like to see him captain the side over the likes of Joe Hart, as he has emerged as our most natural leader.

Finally, my player of the campaign has to be Jordan Henderson. Steven Gerrard isn’t the man he used to be from a physical standpoint, and Henderson more than made up for this by hustling and harrying at every possible moment. He also got forward to help in attack to, playing a number of smart, forward thinking passes. All in all, he didn’t put a foot wrong, and he looks like the man who will lead our central midfield going in to the future. Gerrard knows this is his last World Cup and possibly international tournament, so he could do well to work closely with Henderson on the more technical aspects of his game, such as the long range shooting, pinpoint long range passing and driving runs that became Gerrard’s trademark. We mustn’t forget that Henderson has been offered to other clubs, notably Fulham, in seasons gone by in an attempt to rid him of the wage bill, so to come back in the way he has and stand out at the World Cup is truly remarkable, and shows a level of fight and character I’ve not seen from an English player in a long time.

The opposition was just too strong

At the end of the day, Costa Rica have miraculously topped the group with a style of gritty, team play we should be looking to emulate. Arguably they wouldn’t have beaten Uruguay had Suarez been fit enough to play, but Italy had no answer to them. They fought for each other, and while we battled hard too, it wasn’t the level of team performance that meant Costa Rica were the fourth team to qualify for the last 16.

While Costa Rica found a winning formula, we were undone by four moments of world-class genius we simply didn’t have an answer to. Italy’s first goal was plucked straight from the training ground: a perfect Pirlo dummy, and Claudio Marchisio rifled home a pinpoint drive. The second goal was down to a lack of cover for Baines; he was two against one despite the move to bring Danny Welbeck onto the left side of the midfield, but the delivery from Candreva was simply sublime, and Cahill couldn’t get anywhere near it.

englandvscostaricaUruguay capitalised on the only two lapses of concentration our defence had. Cavani had two options: shoot or cross. Johnson needed to get in the way of whatever he did, but the challenge never came. The fact he was allowed to come inside onto his stronger right foot was bad enough. Nevertheless, Suarez run was a smart one, the kind we know all too well, and Jagielka simply didn’t read it. As if he hadn’t learned his lesson, the second goal was easily preventable by simply dropping back and checking Suarez’s run, not that Gerrard’s dire back header helped matters. We all knew Suarez would take a risk and run onto anything that may fall in front of him, but neither Jagielka nor Baines reacted to it, and Suarez was as deadly as he normally is. It’s too easy to say that the game was lost because Suarez outsmarted Jagielka, as that would negate the efforts and battles of 20 other players, but he’s one of the top 5 players in the world, and proved to be too much to handle on the night.

Who haven’t we seen enough of yet?

Call ups that weren’t used include some very exciting players, such as Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who I am certain with both be mainstays in the England set up for many years to come. John Stones made the reserve list this time around and if he keeps performing for Everton he could be partnering Cahill come 2018.

In terms of non-call ups, Nathaniel Clyne and Callum Chambers look set to duke it out for the right-back slot. Both have shown a lot of ability at Southampton and whoever wins the battle to hold down the place there will surely be England’s future defender. Looking at the newly promoted teams, Danny Ings and Danny Drinkwater both look hugely promising. Ings is a pacy finisher while drinkwater is a box to box midfielder who has certain characteristic resembling a younger Steven Gerrard. Jay Rodriguez is a potential solution to the left-sided midfielder problem, and was unlucky to succumb to injury weeks before the tournament. Finally, keep one eye firmly on the progress of Will Hughes, touted by many as the future of our midfield, a Brit who plays like a continental European, with a certain slickness of movement of passing which we could really do with in our current setup.

Concluding Remarks

As a 21-year-old graduate; you really shouldn’t take much advice from me. But please be patient. We will get there; maybe not to the levels of a Brazil or Spain in years gone by but definitely into a regular fixture in the World Cup knockout stages; dare I say even semi-final contenders? The future is much brighter than our World Cup 2014 would suggest. The worst thing we could do is unearth all of Hodgson’s good work, unsettle the squad and start from scratch again.

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