COMMENT: The two youngsters provided a glimmer of hope while the Liverpool man, Wayne Rooney and Roy Hodgson’s abilities to lead are under scrutiny after a second defeat
By Alex Young
England are on the brink. For the first time in World Cup history, the inventors of the game remain pointless following their opening two games. They face an embarrassing early exit that’s not been seen since 1982.
All is not lost though. Two wins for Italy and a commanding victory over Costa Rica will see England sneak into the knockout stage – but what lessons can be learned from a Luis Suarez-inspired defeat to Uruguay?
Goal examines the lay of the land ahead of a nervy five days for everyone in England’s camp…
ENGLAND’S NEW WAVE OF TALENT
Despite all the doom and gloom, the emerging talents of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley give the country hope of a brighter future.
The Liverpool winger was a surprise starting selection against Italy and outshone everyone else in an England shirt. His quick-thinking and even quicker feet were a handful for the Azzurri defence and similarly troubled Uruguay on Thursday before he began to lose steam on the hour mark.
His replacement in Sao Paulo sparked England’s mini-revival as Barkley showed invention and verve devoid from Steven Gerrard and the other supposed wiser heads in the squad.
Much has been spoken about how England must be built around the likes of Gerrard, Rooney and the ‘Old Guard’ but the lack of ideas and inability to adapt among the invention and excitement of the youthful Merseyside duo was as damning as it was depressing.
Roy Hodgson should be congratulated on giving youth a chance on the biggest stage – indeed, he gave Sterling his England debut when the 19-year-old had less than 10 first-team appearances to his name – but he must now go one step further and build his team around these talented players.
WAYNE ROONEYAll the talk after the loss to Italy was centred on the frustrated figure of Rooney in Manaus. He was positioned on the left of an attacking midfield three and lacked the guile to make a telling contribution – other than in his assist for Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser.
Roy Hodgson altered matters and gave him the No.10 spot he craved and Rooney did, after over 750 minutes of action, score his first World Cup goal.
Rooney has been mismanaged and suffered because of it. As we’ve seen before, this was a player who was determined to prove himself at the highest level, and after a night of frustration against Italy he tried to make amends – then did the exact opposite.
His creative stats from six days ago all fell when he faced Uruguay. Despite holding a more central position he created just two chances for his team-mates – compared to three (and one assist) against Italy – while his passing accuracy decreased from 87.88 per cent to 71.43% overall and from 81.82% to a woeful 57.89% in the final third.
Despite trying to increase his influence in the game, Hodgson in fact reduced it and, whether you point the finger at the manager or the player, it was detrimental to England.
On the face of it, Steven Gerrard made mistakes in the build-up to both of Suarez’s goals. He made a half-hearted tackle in the centre of the pitch as Uruguay countered up the field and his Liverpool team-mate headed the ball past Joe Hart.
With England requiring a leader as Uruguay piled on the pressure in search for a winner, Gerrard struggled against Edinson Cavani before nodding on Fernando Muslera’s hopeful punt forward to allow Suarez to notch his second goal of the game and leave the Three Lions on the brink.
But it would be unfair to hinge Gerrard’s tournament on two individual moments. While he was also bossed by Andrea Pirlo in Manaus, Gerrard was not given the required assets needed to take on the world’s best.
Italy fielded five in midfield against England and Uruguay followed suit by playing a diamond of four around the isolated Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.
With elimination looking likely, Gerrard is likely to bow out of the international stage off the back of a season with Liverpool which offered so much but, ultimately, hinged on a mistake.
In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s loss, Hodgson was faced with questions regarding his future. After all, as detailed above, this is the worst start England have suffered at a World Cup ever and they now face a first first-round exit in 32 years.
Gerrard dismissed talk of Hodgson not being the right man to lead his country when speaking to reporters after the game and the man himself insisted he had “no intention to resign”.
“I’m bitterly disappointed, of course, but I don’t feel I need to resign,” he said. “On the other hand… if the FA think I’m not the right man to do the job, that will be their decision, and not mine.”
At the risk of a knee-jerk reaction, with progression still possible after all, Hodgson was evidently beaten tactically by both Cesare Prandelli and Oscar Tabarez, predominately in midfield.
His handling of Rooney’s role was also misguided. After testing Rooney on the left with little success in warm-up matches, he re-jigged his approach to further damage his midfield threat in Sao Paulo before eradicating England’s width late on by bringing on three players who prefer the No.10 role in Barkley, Adam Lallana and Rooney.
An unlikely progression to the knockout stages would ultimately prove to be Hodgson’s saving grace, but with only tougher tests to come, the 66-year-old may already have been found out one too many times.
In the first edition of this series, I put the England fans as one of my ‘winners’. The performance, albeit in defeat, against Italy was one of promise and excitement. They had spent untold amounts travelling to Brazil but their enthusiasm was heightened.
Five days later and everything has changed. They’ve spent untold amounts travelling to Brazil and have had their dreams crushed.
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