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England's problems are not surprising, but there are positives
AS England warmed up for the World Cup with a couple of friendlies in Miami earlier this month, everyone had an opinion on how Roy Hodgson’s men would perform in Brazil.
With very little expectancy flying around, the general consensus was that merely qualifying from a tough group would represent something of a success.
To have had their fate in England’s own hands going in to Tuesday’s final game would have sufficed, but for Costa Rica to be the team already through at this stage highlights why there is so much frustration among supporters.
England were not good enough against Uruguay; just like they were not good enough to get the job done against Italy.
Yet, despite the two defeats, there are positives for Hodgson to take forward and he must stick to developing a team rather than massage the egos of individuals as some of his predecessors have done in the past.
Before the World Cup, former England defender Gary Pallister outlined to The Northern Echo his concerns for the England defence without a figurehead like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand. Pallister’s profile in the game meant his comments were reported, but his worries were echoed by most England supporters.
While Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines have been exciting to watch in an attacking sense from full-back for both Liverpool and Everton, neither have consistently delivered international-class performances in a defensive aspect.
Then there is Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill. Two strong central defenders at club level for Everton and Chelsea, but neither possess the sort of leadership qualities required to keep a back four together to protect goalkeeper Joe Hart.
For all England have looked more comfortable on the ball than they have in previous tournaments, they have lacked the doggedness and unity in their own half of the pitch which both Uruguay and Italy have displayed to get the job done.
It is hard to believe that Premier League regulars can struggle to find the cohesion required to keep things tight at the back. The exceptional Luis Suarez and Italian danger-man Mario Balotelli made the most of the problems, but England have never looked particularly comfortable on the back foot even when they have not conceded.
Going forward Hodgson has to find a way to make that work. There are very few alternatives out there for him to pick at the heart of his defence, so he must ensure the same personnel develop a more effective way of working together.
Hodgson’s position will understandably be under the microscope when England return home, but he has brought a younger and more refreshing playing style to this World Cup and he deserves another opportunity to take them in to Euro 2016.
He is well-liked inside the dressing room, a good man-manager and has the respect of the players working under him. He has fast-tracked Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana on to the World Cup stage and they could all have established themselves in his starting line-up by the time France comes around in a couple of years time.
Sterling lit up last Saturday’s defeat to Italy with his direct style of play and handled correctly he will become England’s golden boy for years to come, so high is his potential.
Barkley, who should start against Costa Rica on Tuesday, has shown he is capable of making his mark on the international stage, while Daniel Sturridge should score goals long term.
Preparing for the future during a World Cup is not what Hodgson was trying to do, nor is it the ideal time to try it. The younger members of the squad, however, should have learned from the experience and back-to-back defeats in the group stage should leave them desperate to avoid a repeat.
There will inevitably be those who argue the Premier League is to blame for England’s failings. That is partially true, given the number of foreign players restricting the number of homegrown talents from gaining valuable top-flight experience.
But to merely blame the millions being earned by England’s internationals for a lack of desire to perform on the big stage is wrong. If there are any players purely happy with their bulging bank balances, then take a look at Luis Suarez.
Winning and performing for his country clearly still means everything to him ... on top of his reputed £250,000-a-week Liverpool wage.
England have problems, but is anyone really that surprised?
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