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A nation's hopes resting in Roy Hodgson's hands?

A nation's hopes resting in Roy Hodgson's hands?

 

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of godin2017, flickr.com

On Tuesday night, ‘boo’s swept round Wembley for the second time in five days. Two defeats at home is hardly reason to be optimistic as we look towards next summer’s World Cup. When the shortcomings are this obvious – and with the World Cup draw just round the corner on December 6th – one thing is for sure; Roy Hodgson has plenty to consider with just one game remaining before he names his preliminary 30 man squad.

I suppose the only consolation is that, unlike in previous years, nobody actually expects us to win the World Cup this time around. And so at least we will be saved the embarrassment of a nation heaping unrealistic expectations on an England team ahead of a major international tournament.

Just over a month has passed since England secured their qualification with a win against Poland and the team’s performances in the last two games are certain to leave Roy Hodgson with a pounding headache.

When you’re playing teams like Chile and Germany, first and foremost you need to be competitive. And, in phases, you have to say that England were. That said, as is often the case in international football, the winning margin was decided by such a fine line.

The concern though – aside from both results – was the lack of ideas, imagination and creativity that England displayed in both games. Surprisingly their vulnerability at the back has also been exposed, which is strange, given that only Spain conceded fewer goals than England’s four during qualification.

In my opinion too many players were used. Yes, Roy Hodgson wants to review players like Lallana, Henderson and Rodriquez on the international stage but with just one friendly game remaining against Denmark in March before Hodgson must name his initial squad, it’s clear that he still doesn’t yet know what his best starting eleven is. And that, to me, is worrying. I wonder if the same can be said for the likes of Spain, Germany or Brazil.

Will Joe Hart be England number one? Does Roy Hodgson go with Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole at left back? Who partners Phil Jagielka at centre half?

Phil Jones struggled against Chile and the same can be said of Gary Cahill. Meanwhile on Tuesday night Chris Smalling didn’t perform at his best.

Who plays at right back; Glen Johnson or Kyle Walker? For me Kyle Walker is fantastic going forward but he leaves the side exposed at the back. Before a major international tournament it is crucial that a manager settles on a back four. Roy needs to make this decision and whoever he picks needs to play together to develop an understanding in advance.

To me, though, it is clear that England’s defence at the moment is missing a big name like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand; someone who is going to be the leader we need and will bring experience. But would a call from Roy Hodgson change either of their minds about coming out of retirement?

 

Image Courtesy of danae47, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of danae47, flickr.com

Put simply, there are too many questions and not enough answers.

In the Germany game, England did not even manage a shot on target; the first time that has happened at home since the Scotland game in 1999. In the absence of shooting accuracy, a solid defence becomes even more crucial.

In midfield England were certainly left exposed against Germany. The likes of Toni Kroos, Mario Goetze played well and showed their class. And with players like Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger not even on the pitch, Germany has creative midfield match winners in abundance. Alexis Sanchez offered a similar threat in the Chile game.

England, on the other hand, benefit from the pace of Andros Townsend, who did play considerably well in the game last night. And when Theo Walcott is fit he can strike fear into any defender….but question marks remain in place around the quality of the final ball. Yes, we can call upon the experience of Captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, but both player lack that added creativity and explosiveness that we became accustomed to seeing earlier in their careers. That creative spark over time, could, I believe, come from someone like Jack Wilshere but a lot will depend on whether he can stay fit.

Wayne Rooney, on a good day, remains one of the world’s best players. He is by far one of England’s most important players. With Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck injured, Jemain Defoe benched and Rickie Lambert relatively inexperienced, the question of who partners Rooney up front remains unanswered.

 

Given his form so far this season Daniel Sturridge is in the best position to wear the number 9 shirt in Brazil. But for me, he needs to offer more in an England shirt and he lacks consistency. Playing alongside Suarez week in week out should certainly help here!

I think that, as a nation, we realise that we are no longer part of the world’s elite and that, more realistically, we find ourselves part of a group of second tier teams that, with a favourable draw, could make the quarter finals at best. So do we accept that we are not going to win the World Cup (in all honestly many of us already have!) and opt to give younger players vital tournament experience, building for the future?

One thing that Roy Hodgson has learned in the last two games is that the task facing in him Brazil is going to be incredibly tough. Unlike in previous tournaments though, when England were expected to win, this England side is a work in progress and the expectation of the nation remains grounded; all be it firmly in Roy Hodgson’s hands.

Who knows what will happen in Brazil, but all eyes will now be on the draw on December 6th. Let’s hope for a group of hope rather than the dreaded group of death.

Put yourself in the shoes of Roy Hodgson now and pick your England team for the World Cup. Here’s mine:

Joe Hart
Fraser Forster
Ben Foster

Ashley Cole
Leighton Baines
Kyle Walker
Glen Johnson
Gary Cahill
Phil Jagielka
Phil Jones
Chris Smalling

Theo Walcott
Andros Townsend
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
James Milner
Steven Gerrard
Frank Lampard
Jack Wilshere
Michael Carrick

Wayne Rooney
Daniel Sturridge
Danny Welbeck
Jermain Defoe

The return of the Premier League, a welcome relief for England football fans

For anyone and everyone that follows football, the return of Premier League football this weekend will be a welcome one.

There’s something about international breaks that stop the blood from flowing and create an air of inevitability for England. Cue a 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Tuesday night in front of a frustrated, half-empty Wembley stadium. “Same old England” were the words echoed around all four corners of the ground after another less than convincing performance.

You would think that the sell-out crowds at the Olympic stadium over the last month would have inspired people to go and support their national football team and would have gone some way towards reigniting that sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, this might be the start of things to come for a World Cup-winning England…. I’m afraid we’re not feeling very confident.

While there is undoubtedly an emergence of young talent coming through the ranks, with the likes of Oxlade -Chamberlain, Welbeck and Cleverley all making names for themselves, we are all too often witnessing players who promised so much, delivering, in reality, very little in an England shirt….Wright Phillips, Lennon and Walcott to name just a few.

This has arguably been the greatest summer of sport for Britain. London 2012 unearthed some of the finest Olympic and Paralympic athletes who epitomised the ‘Great British’ spirit, courage and determination. Add to this Andy Murray’s heroics at Flushing Meadows to end the elusive wait for a men’s singles Grand Slam champion for 76 years, and it is difficult to deny that 2012 has, so far, been the year of UK sport. But the nation was brought crashing back down to earth on Tuesday night when it was reminded just how frustrating it can be to watch the three lions in action.

Whatever happens in Group H you would expect England to qualify for the World Cup in Rio in two years’ time.  England should be competing at major international tournaments, so to even debate whether they will or not seems wasteful. Qualification should be a relatively straightforward task.  But with that said, it is difficult to look far beyond another quarter-final, or a semi-final exit at very best in Rio 2014.

Not since Euro 96 have England reached the semi-finals of a major tournament (and if Paul Gascoigne was two inches taller we would probably have gone on to win it). Of course, everyone remembers the heartache of 98, losing to Argentina on penalties. Yet most of us seem to forget that England should have been out of sight in that game, had it had a full complement of players on the pitch for the entire 120 minutes…..(mentioning no names, Mr Beckham). And then there was that famous rush of blood from Phil Neville, conceding a penalty in the dying seconds against Romania to send us packing from the group stages at Euro 2000.  At the 2002 World Cup, there was genuine hope that Sven’s men could finally go all the way but they came up against champions Brazil and were beaten by the cross come shot from Ronaldinho.  Sigh. ‘Oh, what could have been’ we hear you say…

Defeats to Portugal in 2004 and 2006 on penalties will be remembered for the involvement of one player, Wayne Rooney. The injury in 2004 probably cost us a place in the semi-finals; the curse of the metatarsal striking again. And the reason for what happened two years later? Only Rooney will know. Another error, this time in the form of Rooney stamping on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho, resulting in a sending off and suddenly England were in the familiar position of being sent packing, just as our penalty voodoo continued. In 2008 we didn’t even qualify, lest we be reminded, is that rain we hear?

In 2010 we were outplayed and outclassed by Germany, despite a Lampard shot clearly crossing the line (and yes we are still waiting for goal-line technology Fifa…..)

You can see the pattern that’s forming here.  In football, you make your own luck and there is no denying that England has had its fair share of bad luck in recent times. But the likes of France, Italy, Holland and Spain – serial underachievers in the past – have all delivered in the past and won the silverware that their talents deserve. England, meanwhile, have not even come close.

The third best team in the world according to Fifa. Keep on dreaming, we say.  Back to the Premier League we go, the best league in the world…

 Words by Dan Apostolos