England manager Roy Hodgson didn’t want to go to Manaus, but he will in the first group game against Italy (Saturday, June 14, 9pm ET). The Azzurri under Cesare Prandelli have to be considered a strong contender to advance deep into this World Cup. Uruguay’s uneven qualifying campaign notwithstanding, getting by them will be difficult for England. Uruguay has performed exceptionally well in their last two major tournaments, the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America which they won.
England is not as weak as many in the British Press would lead fans to believe. This is a side not only with experienced professionals, but an ability to counter attack efficiently and to adapt tactically to different styles and formations. Squad depth is improving and young players are being effectively mixed into the side.
Since getting the job right before the Euro 2012 tournament, Hodgson has been attacked relentlessly for producing dour, uninspiring football. These critics constantly harp on how England should be slicker in their passing football and more attack oriented. But the reality is England came through arguably the toughest qualifying group in UEFA by pragmatically maximizing results and playing to the squad’s strengths. This has come at the same time as Hodgson has blended in critical youth such as Andros Townsend and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into a team that can play well on the break. This will be critical in a group featuring a side like Italy, with an evolving more passing oriented side under Prandelli and Uruguay who maintain possession well.
To be perfectly objective, I don’t see a lot of cracks in this England side. Playing organized and tight as Hodgson insists on playing means England will be competitive in every game next summer in Brazil. No other national side on the planet has the pace and ability to counter the way England does. Townsend’s development just adds to that, giving England additional cover for Theo Walcott who like so many Arsenal players is injury prone. If England can keep Michael Carrick fit, reaching the World Cup semi-finals will not be out of the question. People’s personal preferences dictate slick football with nice passing. But England can play a different way, some would say “negative,” but I would say different — plus indigenous and progressive in its own way.
It won’t be easy but England does have a route out of this seemingly daunting group. Should the Three Lions emerge this tough group, it could be the crowning achievement on a stellar yet under-appreciated management career for Roy Hodgson.