Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions side arrived in Brazil earlier today to begin final preparations for the opening match against Brazil. The England Manager addressed reporters in an upbeat mood ahead of the nation’s opening match of the competition against Italy.
“The first game in the World Cup is always the most exciting one. That’s the one that you build up for over four weeks in our case. In some team’s cases, possibly even longer because they get their team together earlier. The first game is always the main one for us. Once you’ve played that game you’re into the tournament and the second and third games they become a little but more mundane for you. But certainly the first game is the one that will occupy all our waking and probably even sleeping moments for the next seven days.”
Optimism still is abound though England struggled in both friendlies this past week in Miami, drawing both matches. The first match against Ecuador on Wednesday was free-flowing match which exposed the England’s lack of defensive depth. But the Three Lions enjoyed some outstanding individual performances in the match.
Against Honduras on Saturday, the Three Lions enjoyed the majority of possession and goal scoring opportunities yet were unable to breakthrough and had to settle for a 0-0 draw. This was despite playing the last 22 minutes and stoppage time up a man.
Honduras’ physical approach stymied England in the final third frustrating Manager Roy Hodgson.
“Honduras were quite physical, but it was a real stop-start game, one of the most frustrating I’ve been involved in for a long time. We had a long stoppage for the storm, and I thought we dealt with it well. In the second half it was attack versus defence. I thought the tempo of our play and effort to score in the second half was commendable. I will take the draw and take the fact we got away without any injuries as positives. We go to Brazil in the right frame of mind.”
England Captain Steven Gerrard made similar complaints:
“Maybe we could have moved the ball a bit quicker, but there were some horrific challenges out there. There was no rhythm so we’re frustrated, if relieved at no injuries. I thought there were some horrific tackles for a friendly. I got caught with a bad one. I don’t understand the referee when the ball is being kicked into a player’s chest. That should have been a straight red card, and with 10 men it could have been different.”
Gerrard also complained about the officiating:
“We thought the referee (Ricardo Salazar) was poor,” “We’re quite frustrated in the dressing room because they were committing some stupid fouls.
This specific referee has come under scrutiny in the United States from fans for his past performances in Major League Soccer. However it can be argued what would be accomplished in a friendly if the opposition is reduced to ten men so early in a match? Perhaps the official, understanding the occasion consciously kept Honduras on eleven men so that the friendly would serve a purpose for both teams.
The complaints about the officials are from my vantage point poor excuses for the inability of England to break down a well-organized bunkered side. Hodgson’s men have to find a way to create better chances in the final third, especially with so many gifted technical players available for selection.
This week’s friendlies have shown that the Three Lions have plenty of skill and a sense of freshness even after a long Premier League season. Youngsters, Alex Oxalde-Chamberlin, Ross Barkley, Danny Welbeck and Jordan Henderson all showed well this week. But the overall team performances left significant room for improvement.
Against Ecuador in a 2-2 draw, England was more susceptible on the counter-attack than many expected. Granted the back-line was a makeshift one made up of reserves. Frank Lampard was positioned right in front of the back four, but he was often advanced too far up the pitch to break up play when counter attacks came quickly into the England half.
On Saturday, the inability of some England players to cope with Honduras’ physical approach is quite worrying. With the entire ledger of field players featuring at Premier League clubs, one would think the Three Lions were accustomed to the type of heavily physical play and defensive approach Honduras used in this match. The Central American nation picked its spots to go forward especially after being reduced to ten men. Yet England did not perform up to the necessary standard and the focus was shifted to Honduras’ physical play.
England’s preparation for the World Cup included climate acclimation in Miami where both of this week’s friendlies were played. On that score, the environment should give the Three Lions a leg up over the opposition in the first match, Italy.
One bit of good news was that Hodgson indicated Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was injured in the Ecuador game should be available for the World Cup.
Hodgson did not discuss or address any of these concerns as England touched down in Brazil earlier today. However, it is obvious that work is left to done for this Three Lions squad to be as competitive as many had hoped.