England’s World Cup hopes were brought to a crushing half following Group D defeats to Italy and a Luis Suarez-inspired Uruguay. A tournament that was met with such high optimism in England petered out in disappointing fashion, with the Three Lions failing to progress from the group stages for the first time in 56 years.
Despite a promising performance against the Italians in which Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck impressed, Roy Hodgson’s men weren’t able to recreate the high intensity performance against Uruguay.
Even Wayne Rooney’s first ever World Cup goal was not enough to lift the English spirits as Costa Rica’s win against Italy confirmed elimination.
Hodgson has been criticized for not picking the experienced Ashley Cole and for not trying to coax John Terry out of international retirement.
England’s youthful squad was caught out on a number of occasions against the Italians and the Uruguayans and they missed the organisation skills of Terry and Cole. 19-year-old Sterling earned a place in the squad along with 20-year-old Ross Barkley and 18-year-old left back and Manchester United target Luke Shaw.
Even some of the older heads – such as Everton’s Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka – haven’t had too much international experience and they were found wanting against two experienced attacks. There were inexcusable amounts of space for the opposition to run into and – despite the enthusiasm – England’s players couldn’t dominate games.
The likes of Liverpool players Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge played well alongside teammate Sterling, but skipper Steven Gerrard had yet another disappointing tournament in an England shirt. The England man is just shy of David Beckham’s record haul of 115 caps for an outfield player, but he struggled to dictate games the way he did for Liverpool in their excellent season.
Rooney tried his best but again failed to live up to his reputation, whilst full-back Glen Johnson again showed his defensive frailties – although he did create Rooney’s goal against Uruguay.
This was a tournament that was expected to provide England with fresh hope and optimism for the future – with FA chairman Greg Dyke insisting that the goal is a World Cup success at the 2022 tournament in Qatar. But it was a damp squib for a nation that has won the competition once before – in England in 1966.
Once considered to be footballing giants, England’s reputation is fading fast, but what needs to happen next?
Roy Hodgson has clearly been planning for the future with such a youthful side, and the inclusions of John Stones and Jon Flanagan in the provisional squad proved that – along with his final squad which included Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on top of the aforementioned youngsters.
For England to have a successful tournament in four years time, the youth has to be trusted and invested in. Shaw will be 22, Barkley 24, Henderson and Sturridge both 28, and Sterling 23 when the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off, and they will be crucial for the Three Lions as long as they continue to progress in their careers. Stones will be 24, Flanagan 25 and Jones 26. These players could all provide a crucial backbone for England to do well.
And prior to that tournament the European Championships will be held in France in 2016, perhaps providing the platform for England to have something to build upon.
The ‘Golden Generation’ of Gerrard, Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand is best left in the past now, with only Gerrard likely to have anything to do with England after this tournament.
It is time to usher in a new set of talented English players, another group of people to take English fans on yet more roller coaster rides through major tournaments.
Whether the new group will go further than the current crop, it remains to be seen, but it is the best hope England have – and surely the only way forward now for a national side with its reputation in tatters.
It will be 50 years since England last won a major tournament by the time Euro 2016 comes around, and success is long overdue. The expectations will not be high, but a fresh approach could finally end the wait.