Friday, 20 June 2014

England Expects? Far too much

So, England are out of the World Cup.  Following Costa Rica's 1-0 over Italy this afternoon, England are no longer able to qualify from the group stages - not even mathematically.  FA Chairman Greg Dyke's much-criticised "throat-cutting" gesture at the group draw last December now looks oddly prophetic.

Is anyone surprised?  I'm not.  I'm disappointed, obviously - gutted, in fact.  But not surprised.  Once again, the nation's football supporters - whipped up by an ever-hysterical media - have been expecting far too much of a group of players who are, at best, fairly decent.  The arrogance with which pundits and fans dismissed Costa Rica as "no-hopers" has come home to roost, as they top the group with two wins from two games, leaving Italy and Uruguay to battle it out over the other available place in the last sixteen.

In a poll on Twitter, BBC Sport found that 61% of England fans felt the team had "underperformed" at this year's World Cup.

I don't know what planet these people are on; England are bottom of Group D, and they are there on merit.  England have been the fourth-best team in the group, and the table reflects that.  It's time to recognise that England just aren't that good.  We have some players who are good, but not great - and plenty who are inexperienced.

But what of Costa Rica?  How many of their players would you classify as "greats"?  How have they achieved qualification with a squad containing no "big name" star players?

One thing which was clear from watching Costa Rica is that they had turned up with a plan, and they stuck to their plan.  England, all too often, had grand ambitions, but seemed flustered and lacking in composure.  The difference between Costa Rica's effective smothering of the threat of Italy's Andrea Pirlo and the way England let him dictate play for large parts of their game against Italy on Saturday was stark.  The most marked quality Costa Rica have had is the way they have worked together, as a single unit, to break down opposition teams.  England, by contrast, have displayed moments of individual brilliance but have not seemed to gel properly as a team.

For many of the players in the England squad, this is their first international tournament.  They don't have the experience of having trained together and played together for years.  They are still young, they are still learning, and they are still getting to know each other as colleagues and teammates.

It is important we don't overreact to England's elimination from the World Cup.  England have not been a power in world football for some time now.  We can't make excuses.  Yes, Diego Godín should've been sent off for Uruguay during the first half of their game with England; a lot of people talk about "foreign players" in the Premier League affecting England (which is utter, utter nonsense, of course - a complete straw man of an argument).  These details may distract us from the pain of elimination, and provide pub bores with things to bang on about to anyone who'll listen - but ultimately, we have to face up to the fact that we just weren't good enough.

We need to lose the delusions of grandeur, resist the urge to cast desperately around for scapegoats, and stick with this new generation of young players to try and build a squad with the capability maybe to spring a surprise at the Euro Championships in 2016, or at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Oh, and now that we're out of the World Cup, can we at least no longer show chirpy television adverts "starring" the forced, wooden acting of England football players?  I think we should make that a rule, from now on - no more adverts featuring England players once we're knocked out.

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