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The Unexpected Progression of England:

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This time two years ago, the Spanish national team were on the road to lifting their first ever FIFA World Cup in South Africa after their unique tiki-taka left other major footballing nations eternally chasing the ball for 90 mentally, and physically tiring minutes. Spanish fans were therefore in prolonged jubilation due to their triumph. However, within the same tournament, a much darker story occurred.

West of sun-struck Spain, a country’s World Cup experience had been at the contrasting end of the scale, leaving fans, players and staff embarrassed and in disarray. That was, of course, Fabio Capello’s overrated, lacklustre England. After the inevitable optimism, English hopes appeared high as the tournament began until the poor, 1-1 draw with the USA set the scene for what would be a disastrous and highly criticised World Cup campaign; with the Germans soon making sure Capello’s team took no further part in the competition after the round of 16. Despite the ill attempts to defend England because of Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’, it is a well-known fact they simply did not deserve to progress due to the uninspiring quality of football exhibited.

Possibly only one moment of half-hearted happiness sprang from the self-created darkness in the twighlight of Capello’s reign: when both England and Spain met under Wembley’s arch in November’s friendly, the underdogs surprisingly emerged from Spain’s suffocating grip victorious: Lampard’s 49th minute header gave The Three Lions a 1-0 win and something to shout about until, that is, what proceeded consumed the media’s build up to Euro 2012.

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When Fabio Capello resigned as England manager in early February, it provoked a mixed reaction which, as is commonly known, involved Stuart Pearce, Harry Redknapp and a surprise in the form of a certain Roy Hodgson. The former West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool, Fulham and Inter Milan boss definitely wasn’t (and still isn’t) the media’s choice for the job; nevertheless, he quietly proved many critics wrong. Under minimal pressure, he achieved more than expected with drastically reduced resources.

As a result of Hodgson’s appointment, the optimistic advertisements and promising propaganda halted and was nowhere to be seen; the country expected far less (compared to the usual hopeful target of winning) and in many ways, the pressure was relieved, this once, from the squad and manager. Looking at his coaching experience and respectable reputation built up from Swedish origins, there could not have been a more approachable and genuine candidate to select. Redknapp, after all, is what some would call unreliable. Therefore, England entered the tournament depleted, yet upbeat and unaware of what exactly lay ahead for them. As seen in the two friendly matches prior to the competition (against Norway and Belgium), Hodgson’s makeshift England would be no masters at keeping the ball despite their solidity, plus they could defend well in spells: two factors which repeatedly appear in England and Hodgson’s story so far.

France, England’s first competitive opponents under Hodgson and in the tournament itself, appeared transformed and revived under Laurent Blanc in the qualifying stages and therefore intimidated England fans; would an opening defeat prolong their nation’s agony? Would it, yet again, be the introduction to a disastrous tale? Negativity circled before an Englishman had even touched a ball competitively at the Championships. Hodgson explicitly had his team playing for a draw, and a 1-1 result, given the circumstances and rushed preparations, proved positive for the easily pleased whilst countering critics’ uncomfortable predictions. For the first time in a very long time, Hodgson gave fans brief glimpses of a professional, hard-working team with respectable ethics. Furthermore, an excitable 3-2 victory over the Swedes (including a situation where England have previously crumbled when behind) and an ever so slightly boring 1-0 win against Ukraine continued the hard-working trend that may soon become stereotypical of the new-look Three Lions.

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7 comments

  • footballspeak says:

    Fundamentally disagree with this article. Unfortunatley, you have just bought in to the early talk about England and Hodgson’s uphill task. Ultimately we didn’t make it past the QF stage again so he certainly hasn’t achieved any more than the the supposedly underachieving previous managers. Injuries have effected us in previous tournaments so that’s no excuse. Cahill has been inconsistent at Chelsea while Lescott has won the league with Man City so hardly a travesty to lose him at centre-back and the injuries to midfield made little difference if you know anything about Roy Hodgson. He would have been perfectly content to play Parker and Gerrard – Barry lacks the athleticism Hodgson prefers in the engine room and doesn’t care much for the possession game that is crucual to the way Barry plays and for Lampard, he has been practically anonymous on the ball for Chelsea for two years and was barely noticable in the champions league campaign. If Lamps had played he would have played instead of parker and simply covered less ground and pressed at less intensity than parker can. In reality we did underachieve – we were lucky to draw to an average France team given that we scored with are only chance and were peppered for most of the game. We beat a poor Sweden who led 2-1 and controlled much of the second half before a freak Walcott goal. This is against a team who play a 34 yr old Mellberg who still looked effective against us and Jonas Olsson the gallout from baggies at centre back. Against Ukraine, it could have gone either way with Enagland failing to control the game again, and Ukraine had that great chance which did in fact cross the line. And finally against Italy we could have lost by three goals in normal time. Italy dominated with an aging Pirlo who was considered past it before the tournament started and with a back four whioh only boasts Chielini as a well known player in England. How is this an achievement or a progression for England? We have players such as Rooney, Gerrard and Ashley Cole who are considered world class by our pundits and yet we think its an achievement to be played off the park against an Italian side who on paper most Engalnd fans would say are weaker. We have players such as Downing and Defoe (who went)and Richards (who didn’t) which play for big clubs and deemed unnecessary whether rightly or wrongly, with Walcott and Chamberlain mostly subs. We are strong on paper compared to many countries we struggle to beat, and a battered by those which at the very least are comparable and have players who must earn far less in wages with much lower reputations as players at club level.

    • Alex Leonard says:

      Your point of view is an interesting albeit negative one. If, in Brazil in 2 years time, there similar performances and overall result, it will be a major failure. However, for the first time for a while, like I mentioned in the article, England played with some heart for once, which, failing any world class performances

      • Alex Leonard says:

        …is attractive to the fans. I agree with you in a fair bit of what you say, however it was too unrealistic, in my opinion, for England to go much further this year. In 2014, we will find out Hodgson and his squad’s real capability.

        • footballspeak says:

          I agree that its difficult to get past the quarter finals, but I thought we were flattered to top the group. I think under Cappello we did play reasonably well in qualifying (2010 WC) using the midfield three of Gerrard, Lampard and Barry. We were undone by a very good Germnany side (who are being heavily criticised for their display against Italy because this Germany squad are considered over there to be one of their greatest teams) and with Barry carrying an ankle injury which was highlighted with the embarrasing chase of Ozil in the later stages. We had injuries then, playing Matthew Upson next to John Terry (in my opinon Matthew Upson should never have been close to England squad let alone a world cup knock out game). I agree with a great deal of your analysis, my issue is the praise of Hodgson. If you don’t consider Rooney, Gerrard and Cole to be world class or the likes of Terry and Lescott to be quality players then its understandable to say Hodgson did well. I’m undecided personally; what irritates me is fans who describe Cole as the best left back in the world, Rooney as one of the greatest strikers, Gerrard as most talented midfielder in Europe and Terry as an outstanding centre back and then praise Hodgson for limping to a quarter final with 43% possession against Ukraine who were missing Shevchenko and Voronin and started a qualified P.E. teacher at centre-back. People can’t have it both ways – our individuals are either over-rated at club level or our national managers (Hodgson included) don’t do enough.

  • Alex Leonard says:

    @ footballspeak: what you say is perfectly correct, the talent on display representing a football-mad, famous nation is respectable, whereas the performances have not been in any way, shape or form. As a football fan who has been out of love with England for a significant amount of time since my childhood naiveties left me and I no longer felt obliged to suffer any longer, Euro 2012 impressed me in various ways; the performances (which, as you say, were far from brilliant) play a minor factor in me beginning to like England again. I feel Hodgson is the first respectable, well presented and likeable (personality wise) manager the F.A have appointed in a long time. After watching England’s boring friendly matches prioe to the tournament, I had virtually no expectations. However, and it was unexpected, my instant reaction was a positive one. After the penalties, I did not feel overly dissapointed, as time will be a pivotal element for Hodgson to prove himself. The players certainly underperform, and there is no excuse. Nevertheless, will Hodgson be the man to end that trait to a squad with vast potential? Your point of view is an interesting one, and neither of us are wrong; we just differ on whether to be positive or negative about the world’s most frustrating international team.

    • footballspeak says:

      I understand your view. I feel more pessimistic because I’m unconvinced that Hodgson will try to play attacking football with the England team. He certainly set up very defensively and looked to compete against teams without controlling possession or encouraging midfield players to get into advanced positions. He seemed to do much the same at Liverpool, and if we consider that job to be an exception (which I think may be fair given the problems at the club) then its been a long time since he’s managed a team that looks to win most of its games. I can’t see Englans matching the expectations of being a side that can geniunely attept to win competitions with the way Hodgson seems to play. Some may point to Chelsea’s success in the CL but I think that was somewhat of a one-off – they scraped past Barcelona after conceding chance after chance and should have been buried by fairly average CL Final opponents in the form of Bayern. In my opinon, there is very little chance of ever competing in international tournaments playing so negatviely and this appears to be more of a trait of Hdogson rather than pragmatic approach given the ‘circumstances’. U write very well in the article though. It was good.

      • Alex Leonard says:

        Yes, I have to admit I’m slightly afraid that will become England’s trait; it’s about time we played some attracrive football. Euro 2012 may well havw been a one off in that respect, we’ll have to wait and see. He’s notorious for grinding out results from teams who are unexpected to do so: look at Fulham’s European cup final and Switzerland’s 3rd place FIFA ranking for example. It appears to be a trend of Hodgson’s that teams with less pressure upon them prosper under him; the pressure was in at Liverpool and he failed. The media attacked him whilst at Inter and unltimately, he didn’t live up to his reputation. Therefore, as the pressure will inevitably be on next time England are at a major tournament, we will all learn who Hodgson really is and how far his talents extend. For now, we can do nothing but wait and see what happens.

        Thank you for your positive words about my article. It means a lot to me.

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