Blog by: Aditya
On 30th July, 1966 at 17:00 British Standard Time, England’s “Wingless Wonders” finally brought football’s history complete a full circle.
England, the birthplace of modern day football, had finally won the coveted World Cup, and as Bobby Moore, England’s legendary captain, lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy up high in a packed Wembley stadium, with the English fans going wild, one couldn’t help but wonder what lay ahead for them.
After all, England had beaten a powerful West Germany side 4-2, with Geoff Hurst netting a hat-trick in the final, a feat that has yet to be repeated in all these years, albeit through a highly controversial goal.
Cue forward to 2013, and it is possibly the lowest point England have been in the last two decades, where they have struggled to qualify for the sport’s greatest event.
What, at the outset, seemed like a relatively easy group, has shaped up to be the most riveting one, with qualification balanced on a knife-edge.
These are the current standing in the World Cup qualifying groups:
England – 16 pts
Ukraine – 15 pts
Montenegro – 15 pts
Poland – 13 pts
Each of the four teams have played eight games, and with just two more to go, qualifying from Group H is going down to the wire. Montenegro have, of course, been the surprise package, punching above their weight. They’ve drawn against Ukraine and Poland twice, and held England at the Stadion pod Goricom, and with the return leg at Wembley yet to be played, one has the distinct feeling that anything can happen.
England were, rightly so, lambasted for their toothless performance against the Ukrainian hosts at the Olympic stadium in Kiev, with manager Roy Hodgson drawing flak from all quarters for his team’s performance.
But, it must be noted that they had a number of key players missing through injury and/or suspension. In-form striker Daniel Sturridge is out through a thigh injury, while England talisman Wayne Rooney is out through the freak injury he sustained while training at Carrington. Andy Carroll is out for what looks like the rest of the year, and maybe the season, through a popped Achilles’. Glen Johnson is another player missing after he limped off after his excellent performance against Manchester United at Anfield. Hodgson couldn’t even count on Danny Welbeck after the United marksman had picked up a yellow card in England’s match against Moldova, making his ineligible for the crucial away game against Ukraine.
The pressure is definitely on Roy Hodgson to deliver, and fast, as the English fans are becoming more and more disillusioned with England’s chances. The Netherlands and Italy have already booked their places at Brazil for next year, and Belgium are all but through, with Spain and Germany sitting pretty top of their respective groups.
So arises the question: What next for England and Roy?
Changes need to be made, and it seems as if the former Fulham and Liverpool manager will turn to the England youth team for inspiration that is sorely lacking in the senior squad.
Out of the current youth, Raheem Sterling is already travelling with the seniors, but is yet to prominently feature. Another player who is in the travelling squad, Andros Townsend, could expect an upgrade to the playing 11. Pacey, direct and unafraid to shoot, Townsend has already put in some solid performances for Tottenham on the right wing, and can be a handy replacement for Theo Walcott.
Wilfried Zaha has been in-and-out of the senior squad, but having impressed for the Under-21s, he could get another call-up to the senior side. Another youngster expected to make the cut is Ross Barkley, who featured for the Three Lions against Ukraine, coming on as a second-half substitute. A surprise inclusion for the English could be Andre Wisdom, of Liverpool, as a backup for Kyle Walker. Walker, who has looked erratic at times, is himself filling in at the right-back spot after injuries to first-choice Glen Johnson and regular back-up Phil Jones.
Hodgson has stuck by Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere for the three midfield spots. And while skipper Gerrard and prodigy Wilshere have put out good performances, Lampard hasn’t lived up to the standards he has set for himself through the years.
He’s endured a bumpy last month, as the performances against Ukraine for England and Manchester United for Chelsea have been well short of the levels expected of him. With Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley waiting in the wings, as well as Hodgson often employing James Milner as a central midfielder, Lampard must rediscover his touch. After all, England’s hopes bank on that.
The question Hodgson must be asking himself is, “Do I make changes, or do I put my faith in the current lot?”, and it is indeed a dicey question to answer. Hodgson knows that he himself is on the edge of a precipice, as the lynching mob will go for him if England slips up.
If ever Hodgson desperately needed the stars to align for him, it is now, for the 11th of October, 2013 at Wembley could decide everything for him, and England. Will the Lions roar, or will they tamely bow out?