“We’ve been waiting for years for England to play like Spain. Now they actually are!”
That was the gag doing the rounds on social media after England’s 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in Sao Paulo. The Three Lions are on the brink of a group stage exit after losing both of their opening World Cup games and the inquest into the team’s performance has already begun, with the search for the men to blame afoot.
But now is not the time for scapegoats. There is a collective responsibility that needs to be shared amongst the players, staff and the manager in any national set up, and in the main, it’s been shirked by England throughout this tournament. Subsequently, the Three Lions are almost certainly set to come up short once again.
In the aftermath of their latest defeat, the sound bites from the players echoed what we heard after the Italy game. They were insistent the team played well, they’d deserved something from the matches and were a little unlucky. After all, against Uruguay they had hit the bar and the referee probably should have sent off Diego Godin for an obvious second yellow card.
But it’s easy to fall back on tired excuses and bemoan misfortune, and it’s been all too regular in England’s marred major tournament past.
In truth, this England team were gripped by the unshakeable apprehension that has hindered their predecessors. They were hopelessly profligate in front of goal, anonymous in midfield and defensively statuesque against Luis Suarez; a player who was wheelchair-bound but a month ago.
Having been drawn in a tough group and picked an inexperienced squad, the English narrative ahead of this tournament was essentially “expect the worst, hope for the best”. But optimism crept upwards as the showpiece moved into view, fueled by strong finishes to the season from players like Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling; flourishing in set-ups centered on attacking vibrancy and tactical fluidity.
In hindsight, that was probably the worst thing that could have happened for Hodgson. All of a sudden, England were expected to go to the World Cup and play with an offensive onus, a mantra not typically associated with or preferred by the England boss.
So it was no surprise that in their two games, England looked like a team in limbo. They were striving to fulfil a wider thirst for enterprising football as well as the cohesive preferences of their manager. In the end, they didn’t really do either.