Isn’t football a funny old game? If you haven’t noticed already, England have already been knocked out at the first stage of the World Cup 2014. The strange and slightly bemusing thing for most England fans is that the majority believe that England have actually performed better this year than four years ago; yet somehow exited the world’s biggest competition earlier. However, this will be of no consolation to the hordes of England fans that travelled to South America to watch their team play. Two 2-1 defeats to Italy and Uruguay in their opening two games have raised the question: what is the difference between us and them, even after so much preparation? The simple fact is that England may well have won, or certainly gained a point, from these two games if it weren’t for difference in quality in the final third.
England were out done by two familiar faces to those who watch the Barclays Premier League. Mario Balotelli and Luis Suarez executed the chances presented to them perfectly and left many of the English players red faced and wondering how they did not manage to capitalise on their own. There is no doubt that this England team certainly offered a more attacking incentive and more attractive football than previous tournaments, but still failed to provide that killer touch. Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling in particular have impressed, not letting the pressure on the rest of the national side effect their own game. If nothing else, it will provide experience for the rest of their England careers. The same cannot be said for some of the more seasoned players who have come under scrutiny for their ‘average’ performances. Unfortunately ‘average’ is becoming more frequently associated with the English national side with each passing tournament. The fact of the matter is that English players, compared to the rest of the world’s footballing nations, are falling behind.
— England (@england) June 25, 2014
Of course Italy and Uruguay aren’t the easiest of opponents; but at present neither are a world class team. They had the upper hand over England because both teams possess a genuine match winner in their forward line, something England lacked.
These two defeats should provide a wake-up call to those people naive enough to believe England are still considered among the world’s elite. This should be a time for reflection and tough decisions for the F.A., not just to benefit themselves, but the country. We must now take a long hard look at ourselves as a footballing nation and ask ‘What makes us different from the rest?’ Countries such as Belgium and Germany who are now reaping the benefits of their long term plans in this World Cup asked themselves this very same question and adopted their own footballing identity. Their teams are as strong as they are at a group level as on an individual one. England must discard this tendency to rely on individual talents for success and focus on developing a strong team nucleus.
Sacking Roy Hodgson at this moment is not the best course of action. If the axe was to swing, England would be in danger of slipping into this recurring cycle of pointing the finger at the manager rather than at the system he’s employed. Hodgson has received the full backing of the players and the F.A. as the right man to lead England forward. In the past, sacking the manager after a poor tournament was almost mandatory, but with Hodgson at the helm, the England team have shown signs of improvement despite this early exit. Hodgson is doing the best with what he’s been given to choose from.
Although it may seem bleak now it’s important to take what little grains of comfort we can from this experience. Firstly, England’s young players will have benefited from their time in Brazil and by the time the next World Cup arrives in Russia, they will be more accustomed to the nation’s expectations. Secondly, England’s manager will also benefit from his time at the World Cup. Providing stability at international level is a rare opportunity in modern football and provided that England do reasonably well at Euro 2016, Roy should be leading his country into a major international tournament for a fourth time. Finally, we should count ourselves lucky that we are not being considered the biggest flop at this World Cup. That title belongs to Spain whose 5-1 defeat to Netherlands and 2-0 defeat to Chile sent the World champions crashing down. The Spanish newspaper Marca led with the headline “The End” the following day.
Matthew is currently in his second year at MMU studying History and looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. He has a keen interest in all things football and Manchester United-related. Follow him on Twitter @mattybostock