48 years, 1 month and 14 days ago, England were World Cup champions for the first time. Is the second time 1 year away? Probably not.
England’s long, goalless draw in Kiev last night, although putting England in a good position to qualify (top of their relatively unchallenging group) once again highlighted everything that is wrong with English football and the fact that Roy Hodgson and the Three Lions have a lot of work to do.
In the past 12 months there have been some encouraging signs for the team with just one loss coming in twelve fixtures, and this was understandable, given that it was against Ibrahimovic FC (Sweden). Included in these results was a famous and very rare victory over the host nation and my favourites for the World Cup next year, Brazil, captained by the legendary Ronaldinho. Therefore England’s ability not just to silence the wizard Neymar on two occasions, but also score many goals (with a qualification group goal difference of 22, including an 8-0 victory over San Marino) proves that England do have the resources, at times, to produce great results in big games.
In spite of these positives for the England faithful’s, there still remains a lot to be done for Roy Hodgson and the coaching staff to avoid bowing out quietly in the quarter finals in penalties following a non-scoring 120 minutes of football. Greg Dyke has been much publicised for stating that “I don’t think anyone realistically thinks we are going to win the World Cup in Brazil” and this seems to reflect a feeling generally around English fandom of discontent and pessimism. So the question remains, what can Hodgson do with the resources at hand?
I think a key to a “successful” campaign will be to set realistic goals for the team, and rather than once again being plagued by the disease of World Cup optimism with the hangover effect of disappointment, we must accept that we are currently not the best in the world. Such is difficult to currently ask, given the recent success of British sport in the Olympics, Tour de France, Wimbledon, Ashes and Lions Tour, but realistic expectations will have a more positive effect on the players as England notoriously love to come in as the underdogs.
I would suggest a target for England to be to make some noise in the tournament (following a series of uneventful and quiet World Cups and Euros) by recording some impressive and comfortable victories against the weaker sides and really putting up a challenge against the stronger ones.
In a more technical sense, Hodgson really needs to go back to basics with the team and use the simplest of school-boy drills to work on the key of Spain’s success – passing. This was a particularly disappointing area in England’s draw on Tuesday night, with the first half seeing England complete just 77.7% of their passes, and although they were much better against the very weak Moldovan side, the stats show that England need to work on their passing against the stronger opposition they will face in Brazil.
In terms of the team, it seems Hodgson needs to look more towards the youth of his team so as to improve both English hopes in Brazil and their squad in the future. The call-up of Ricky Lambert therefore seems backwards thinking and his arguably mediocre performance against the Ukrainians confirmed that, however well he has played for club. Instead, turning to the Under 21 and Manchester United potential, Wilfried Zaha may be a good idea to give him some match experience and get the most out of his exceptional talent, as displayed at Crystal Palace.
Finally England need a great deal of luck because Hodgson has fallen victim to the weak constitution of some of the England players and therefore in the last two, crucial world cup qualifiers England have been without their star and play maker Wayne Rooney as well as the highly in form Daniel Sturridge, who I believe will be fundamental to any potential success England can achieve next year.
On the evidence of yesterday, however, England have another disappointing Summer in Brazil to look forward to, and that’s if they even make it on the guest list.