DECONSTRUCTING ENGLAND AT THE WORLD CUP

I understand that it is a pretty painful time for England fans. To get so close to achieving something truly special, only to falter at the last couple of hurdles. It must be devastating for the entire nation and all their global supporters. I can sympathise. But what is without doubt is that the past four weeks have been an interesting ride for the representatives of Harry, England and St. George. One which to many came totally out of the blue.

There were ups and downs. Milestones and progress. But really and truly, where do England as a footballing nation truly stand after their exploits in Russia? I think now that England are all but done with the tournament, it’s a perfect time for a little football deconstruction.

I need to start off by clarifying that I am not an England supporter. Whilst I do keep an interest from a far, honestly I have absolutely no emotional connection to England as a national football team. This for me is imperative in writing this blog piece as I would like at the very least to show objectivity towards the situation. I watch a lot of England games, its true. But mainly to support any Liverpool players who may be involved at any given time. In reality I always remain impartial.

So, how have England done? Well the group stages were I guess you would say “positive”. Even though in actual fact nothing can really be ascertained from this period of the tournament. Against Tunisia, they opened up very well with some free flowing football on show for the first half an hour. But then things seemed to regress. And we saw what was tantamount to an England performance of the recent past. Keeping control, but not doing much with it. Ultimately, England would snatch victory very late on, probably just about deserved, but in essence the performance was mostly underwhelming.

Then to Panama. What can you really judge from a game like this? Panama as a footballing nation are clearly a few levels below that of England. In saying that, England performed very well and were ruthless on the day. But, with such sub standard opposition, the 6-1 final score really needed to be taken with a very large handful of salt.

Unfortunately, the fact that both England and Belgium had won both of there opening games in Group G, meant their much anticipated clash became predominantly a dead rubber. Both teams gave the fringe players a run out and both teams were more than happy to lose should that transpire. Losing the match would be a clear advantage in the latter stages of the tournament should they both progress, which they did. England lost what was a very uninspiring football match. Again, we can take absolutely nothing from this game as to where England were as a football team in the present.

So, England make the last 16 with little fuss and little real challenge along the way. The next match surely would finally show us if England had come as far as their progression in this tournament had suggested. They faced Colombia. Unfortunately, what should have been a game of the highest quality, quite simply was not. Colombia were missing their most influential player in James Rodriguez, which as it looked made them lose belief in their ability to win the match. So they needed a plan B.

Plan B was to kick the living shit out of the England players. Dive and cheat at every opportunity. Disrupt the flow of the match and harass the referee to the point of extreme discomfort. Guess what? It worked. As disgusting and shambolic as that approach was, it gave them a chance to compete in the game and it almost worked. Colombia equalised in the very last seconds of normal time. Were competative in extra time and found themselves rather surprisingly in a penalty shoot out. Thankfully a sense of justice prevailed. England went on to win the penalty shoot out, break their hoodoo, and deservedly stuff the Colombians in the process. In reality though, it was a poor game of football with only 6 shots on target in a full 120 minutes of football.

I have to give full credit in this instance to the way the England players handled this excessively hostile opponent. For a bunch of young lads, they held their nerve and their calm and just tried to get on with things. For that they deserve huge praise. But again, when it comes to trying to assess where England were as a football team, there was no way to ascertain any truths from this match.

Then came the quarter final with Sweden. Reverting back to a week prior, this is when the draw as a result of losing to Belgium came in to play. Don’t get me wrong, Sweden is not a walkover match, but it’s not the same as playing Brazil. Two points to make from this encounter. England were very professional and very good. But, Sweden were disappointingly poor. The kind of poor performance that does not befit a World Cup quarter final. Once more it was a game few chances. England took theirs and pretty much breezed to victory.

It was at this point that pretty much all England fans started to believe. There was a sense of destiny in the air and it was telling a story of England glory. In fact, if I am honest, I started to believe it myself. However, the path that led to this stage of the tournament, was still bereft of a proper footballing challenge. Against an opponent of real quality. And this thought lingered with me. Yes, it did really feel like England were heading for something special. As if the footballing gods maybe thought it was finally their time once more. But whilst the feeling was rife, the pragmatist in me still failed to recognise in England the tools needed to go and win the biggest football trophy of them all.

And then came Croatia. A semi final. The biggest game in 20 years for England as a nation. Leading into the match, judging by the confidence of the England fans and media, you would have thought this England team akin to Pele’s Brazil. They were confident. They felt it was their time. And they felt that man for man, England had the better side. Perhaps they were right. Unfortunately, whether that was true or not, after a promising start, England came unstuck. The first half belonged to England. They went 1-0 up early, had control of the game and kept Croatia’s main threats quiet. Namely Modric and Rakatic.

But in the second half Croatia changed tactics and England did not. Croatia started gaining momentum, England started losing momentum. Croatia piled on the pressure, equalised in normal time, continued that pressure in extra time and found a deserved winner. England had been found out. The dream was over. And destiny it was not. Tears were shed, reflections will be made and England will look to the future.

I’d like to be frank now in my assessment of where England are at the moment. Even with the adventure to the semi finals, the England team were never really going to win the world cup. Sorry, but it’s true. Quite simply they do not have the tools to do so. In comparison to some of the worlds other big teams, England are not quite there yet. In reality, while Brazil, Spain, Germany and France especially are flush with world class talent, England only really have one player of that calibre. Harry Kane. And unfortunately while he started off the tournament with a bang, he faded rather dramatically in the last few matches.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of talent in this England team. But it’s talent that needs to be nurtured and improved. In defence, Stones and Maguire in particular can both be world beaters one day. During the tournament they both showed signs of one day being at the elite level, but they are not quite there yet. Keiran Trippier, arguably England best player at the tournament, was outstanding. If he keeps developing at this rate and finds consistency, he has potential to become the best right back on the planet.

Jordan Henderson was very good in this tournament and influential. But he will never be the kind of player that is going to win you games. Both Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard are those type of players and showed glimpses of greatness in this tournament. But overall they had an average tournament. Their job was to add that creative spark, and drive the team forward, but that did not happen. And resulted in England really struggling to create chances from open play. You are not going to win the world cup on set pieces alone.

And then there is Raheem Sterling. No doubt a great talent. Some of his forward play at times was exceptional. And a lot of his hard work goes unnoticed. But, the boy can’t finish to save his life. I mean he was really really poor. I am sorry Sterling fans, but if you are going to be playing in a front two, you need to score goals. Simple as that. And if you don’t you will be deemed a failure. For me, that is what Sterling was, a failure. It may sound harsh, but those are the realities of the profession he chose.

Gareth Southgate. Let’s be honest, he did a fantastic job getting this team to the World Cup semi final. In my opinion, he dropped the ball, tactically speaking in the game against Croatia. But before that he got it pretty much spot on. He should take huge credit for getting England so far into the tournament. The “gentleman” took the reigns under difficult circumstances in September of 2016 and has quietly gone about his business. And that is the way it should be. He is a credit to himself and a credit to his country. And if he remains in charge for the long term, I am all but certain that one day England will win a major championship.

Finally, whilst I rarely enjoy waxing lyrical about any governing body, the England FA must take some credit as well. I say this not from a political stand point, but from a footballing one. Southgate was an appointment 3 years in the making. The FA groomed/tested Southgate at under 21 level and it is my belief that the plan was for him to take charge of the senior team all along. Some may argue this point, saying that Southgate only found himself in the job due to the untimely demise of Sam Allardyce. But in my opinion, sooner or later, Southgate would have got the job anyway. It was a risk, but it is one that seems to be paying off.

Ok, I feel I may have become long winded in my assessment here, so I will try to conclude quickly. England were never going to win the 2018 World Cup. If you thought they were, I am afraid you were mistaken. The team was just not good enough to do so. But the positive thing is, they over achieved in a big way, and that in the very least is a sign of improvement. Where as in previous tournaments the trend was to be the perennial underachievers, suddenly the switch has flipped. Mentality is half the battle, and this England team has improved greatly in that area.

Now, if they can keep this squad together for the next 8 years, when some of these young players will have turned their great potential into a world class standard, I can really and truly envisage a day when football actually will come (or go) home.

 

 

 

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Discussion

  1. Claude Grech

    Agreed on the best performers and average performers, I would have added Pickford as one of the good performers also.
    England lacked another match winner in their team. Someone clinical like Robben in his prime or Hazard and Modric who are the go to men to pass the ball to when under pressure.

    I never thought England were the best team but you do not need to be the best to win a knockout competition. Denmark Portugal and Greece won big tournaments and were not even close to being the best. Same as happened in the Champions league with Liverpool and Milan winning it when not even in the top 3 in their own league. Porto won it with a young team no one ever heard of before. Even Leicester surprised the world even more by winning a league which is even harder than winning a knockout tourny.

    So yes England fans believed and why not. Believe gives hope and excitement which is why fans watch the sport to be entertained. Was I disappointed they lost…of course. Not because they are the best in the world… but they were 20mins +1 game away from possibly doing so.

    At least there can be no complaints after yesterday’s game. No dodgy ref decision, no red card and no need for the lotyery of penalties. England were surprisingly far superior in the 1st half. The only what if frustration is that they didn’t kill the game off when on top. Kane 1 on 1 with the keeper didn’t square it to Sterling for a tap in. Kane in the last 3 mins of normal time had a free header inside the 6 yard box to win the game in normal tine but missed the chance. In the end England needed a moment of magic or someone to stand uo and be counted and no one did. Credit to Croatia for coming from behind yet again to win the game.

    But have I enjoyed England this world cup?…yes very much. Not because they beat Panama and the others… but the way they played. For the 1st time since possibly 1998 England had a style if play…a system…and played with confidence and without fear. They overachieved u like their predecessors who greatly underachieved. Apart from Kane Trippier and Pickford none of these players woukd have made the 1st 11 of the 2006
    team for example. However the 2018 team did better because they raised their game to heights.

    However in the end there was a lack in quality that heart determination and no fear could not overcome. Also Southgate who has been great did not change tactics. Your friend Mourinho would have acted fast when the tide was turning in the 2nd half. Southgate never reacted…only like for like substitutions. Perhaps Dier for Ali or Sterling would have regained the midfield. Or perhaps also adding Loftus Cheek or Delph to help Henderson. But Southgate too is learning like his players.

    Apart from Young all the players will be a good age for the next 4 years.

    Common England… now bring on the EPL

    1. davidoziborg

      Whilst I don’t agree with everything you said, you make some decent points. What is for certain is your passion for the game which I love. To take the time to write such a response and voice your opinions is commendable and greatly appreciated. If all fans were like you the sport in general would be much better off. Great response. Thank you.

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