England’s World Cup campaign is underway and already it’s a familiar tale. After defeat in the opening game, Roy Hodgson’s side now have minimal room for error and, if they are to progress to the knockout stages, are going to need two wins in their remaining group games against Uruguay and Costa Rica.
While England’s continued participation in the 2014 finals hangs in the balance, there were arguably more positives to be taken from the defeat to Italy that there were in the entire 2010 campaign. In the lead-up to the game Roy Hodgson had been adamant that his side would be positive and, when news of the team that he had selected filtered through, it was clear that he was going to be true to his word.
Raheem Sterling was chosen ahead of Adam Lallana and it was the young Liverpool man who almost got things off to an explosive start for England. Sterling picked the ball up in the Italy half and drove forward before unleashing a powerful drive that narrowly missed the target – careering into the side netting and fooling the BBC graphics operator into momentarily awarding a goal to England.
Sterling’s chance was one of a few that England created in the early exchanges and, while a combination of the heat and Italy’s patient possession game steadily took its toll, Hodgson’s men – Sterling in particular – continued to impress. By now you’ll have seen the highlights, read the reports and made your own mind up as to who played well and who should be worrying about retaining their place for the pivotal Sao Paulo fixture on Thursday but there is one thing, however, on which I think most England supporters will be able to agree on: At least watching England was vaguely enjoyable. At least they provided a threat. At least they gave Italy something to worry about, something to fear, something with which to deal.
Admittedly, this is a team with much to learn. England were exposed far too often down the Italian right and showed enough defensive frailty to suggest that, if they were to come up against one of the genuine footballing superpowers, they could be badly exposed but it’s important that this game is viewed in context.
Watching England has been little more than a chore for too long and, although they didn’t get the result that we all craved, there were signs of something potentially more important than three points in a group game – the green shoots of recovery. England won’t become world-beaters overnight but there is no reason that, given time, they can’t regain their place amongst the elite. Based on last night’s evidence, I’m happy to be along for the ride once more. It looks like it could be fun.
Come on England.
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.