That’s that then. The pre-tournament friendlies (or tune-up games if we are to use the Miami parlance) are complete and the next time we see England in action, it will be for real.
Whilst the three games delivered adequate results (a win, two draws, five goals for and two clean sheets) it would be hard for Roy Hodgson to argue that everything went totally to plan. An injury to a key performer, a controversial sending off and a delay at the hands of an electrical storm all contributed to the pre-tournament programme feeling slightly disjointed and fractious.
The opposition, Ecuador and Honduras in particular, didn’t make it easy for England, but in looking at the performances it appeared increasingly obvious to me that if the Three Lions are to make an impact at the tournament, it is going to be the new additions to the squad that are responsible for delivering it. The likes of Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have been the most discussed players in the squad, and whilst there was palpable excitement at their inclusion, there was also apprehension as to whether they would be able to perform at the highest level.
We needn’t have worried. Along with Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the new breed of England internationals have proved themselves more than capable during the warm-up games, eclipsing the more established names such as Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as they provided England with glimpses of the attacking spark that so many of us have been craving for so long.
The experienced spine of the team will of course have a major role to play. Joe Hart, Gerrard and Rooney have all been here before, and their know-how will be vital if we are to out-manoeuvre the wily Italians and street-wise Uruguay. As supporters, we’ve been here before too, and painful experience tells us that you don’t progress in tournaments without a bit extra – without creativity, imagination, flair and confidence. That’s what England will be seeking from Barkley, Sterling et al.
I said before the World Cup that I was pleased about the inclusion of players without a World Cup history. Their lack of association with previous regimes means that they don’t carry with them the need to put things right; they don’t owe anyone anything; they don’t feel the added pressure that some of the older campaigners (perhaps unwittingly) cart around with them from tournament to tournament.
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions from friendlies. Italy drew with Luxembourg for example, but I saw enough from the last three games to suggest that we have a group of players that are capable of asking questions of the rest of the world – a squad that has the talent to mix it with the best players in the world. Barkley, Sterling, (a fit) Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and the rest of the new generation may not have what it takes to deliver the ultimate prize, but they’ve shown they can deliver something equally important – belief.
Roy Hodgson has been at pains to play down the influence the younger players can have at this tournament, but after a series of impressive performances, this is becoming a harder line to swallow. This is a group of England players who are in danger of living up to the hype, whose performances might also serve to inspire their older and more experienced team-mates. As England supporters we’re still wary of predicting success, but the correct seeds certainly seem to have been planted this time round. It’s time to see if they can grow into something special.
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a Season Ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the National team. Mike presents the popular Watford FC podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.