Blog by: Ani
It isn’t really meant to be a surprise.
In fact, when you say it out loud, it’s fairly obvious. Roy Hodgson’s England are not genuine contenders for the World Cup.
No matter how you slice it, even if England win their two remaining qualifiers and secure qualification for Brazil 2014, they have no hope. A last eight spot (if that) is optimistic. A last-16 one may be also, considering that only San Marino and Moldova have been put to the sword in qualifying.
Agreed that it’s a cup competition, the best side doesn’t always win, and Hodgson’s men have only lost on penalties in competitive games since his arrival. Look at Brazil in 2002 and the horrendous way they qualified, or Italy in 2006 when no one gave them much hope in the midst of the Calciopoli scandal. They both took the crown despite not being favourites.
Yes, it’s true that both Italy and Brazil weren’t expected to leave either Japan/South Korea or Germany with the World Cup trophy in their hands. However, make no doubt about it, they were both very good sides with astute tactical plans, capable of keeping possession when necessary and with individual talent—Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo for Brazil, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo for Italy—which set them apart.
They, unlike anything Hodgson’s England have shown thus far, were capable of doing more than just not losing matches; they had it in them to win against good sides also.
The Three Lions on the other hand…Not so much.
Wayne Rooney is an excellent striker but hasn’t done it at an international tournament since his breakthrough in 2004 when he frightened the life out of European defences, while Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are now very much in the twilight of their careers and all together have never been further than the quarter-final stage.
As for the younger brigade, Danny Welbeck has eight goals in 18 internationals to suggest he’s finding his feet with the national team (more so than his goals record at Manchester United does), Jack Wilshere shows promise but needs to be protected with bubble wrap to stop from breaking down every five minutes, while Theo Walcott remains Theo Walcott; blessed with outstanding pace, but the infuriating tendency to pick the wrong option time and again.
A defence of Cahill and Jagielka, despite a responsible performance in Ukraine, doesn’t scream out Cannavaro and Materazzi, while the fortunes of the England Under-21s in Israel doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Aside from personnel, the age-old adage still rings true. England simply do not keep possession well enough.
In the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Tuesday evening, against a toothless Ukraine side, the Three Lions were at it again. A couple of decent passes, go backwards, run out of ideas and aimlessly clear it long for another 50-50 between their defenders and our isolated centre-forward. Other nations see such acts as sacrilege, a very last resort. England see it as a way out of trouble despite other sides having realised that retaining possession stops trouble from occurring in the first place.
They give the ball away because of the few options for the man actually in possession. Whether it’s 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3, whatever the tactical plan, it doesn’t make a difference.
Sure, it sees off Moldova and San Marino. But England will be facing names slightly bigger than those in Brazil, to say the least.
The likes of Gerrard and Lampard can sit in front of the back four and give it to an unmarked centre-half throughout the game, or look for the adventurous Hollywood pass to exploit Walcott’s pace. Inevitably, Walcott’s pace makes him the furthest man forward, but he was never known for his dribbling skills. He thrives on smaller passes inside the full-back like the one Cleverley provided against Scotland, not 60-yard long-rangers that stick him along the touchline.
And how is Michael Carrick, a five-time Premier League winner and perhaps England’s best recycler of possession, still not worthy of a starting place? Against Ukraine it was clear as day that Hodgson’s XI weren’t keeping possession well and were turning it over all too easily. But Carrick wasn’t called upon.
And away from just keeping possession, what about their ability to actually create chances. Once again against a reasonable defence, they were few and far between.
As a national team, England’s interpretation of space and movement in the final third proves time and again a let down. Too few angles, too few purposeful runs and too few goalscoring opportunites.
The closest the Three Lions have to a Thomas Mueller, a player who picks up intelligent positions off the flank is arguably Welbeck, but for all his potential he isn’t in the same league as the Champions League winner.
Jack Wilshere can drive through midfield past his man, only to be greeted by a wall of defenders and no passing option, from where his thin frame is inevitably pushed aside.
At the club level he has two No.10’s to play to in the shape of Santi Cazorla and now Mesut Ozil, who can then influence proceedings in the final third. Unfortunately, those No.10’s do not exist for him on the international stage.
Maybe Rooney could fit in, but he hasn’t put in a good performance against a quality side in a really long time.
Other than Rooney? The options are bleak. Ross Barkley may be talented, but he’s had three matches to start his club season and 30 minutes against Moldova. He could be the future, but surely isn’t there yet.
New FA chairman Greg Dyke spoke of winning the 2022 World Cup. People were surprised that he did not indicate the same for next year, but at least someone was being realistic.
The Three Lions should now qualify and take their place alongside 31 other nations. But without tactical changes, its going to be a similar story to South Africa 2010 and Poland/Ukraine 2012.
Hodgson’s men will never be found wanting for effort. But unfortunately, inspiration, both on the pitch and on the bench, remains lacking.