England: Not Great at Football, but That’s Fine

fb So, after two narrow defeats to Italy and Uruguay, England are probably out of the World Cup. Not absolutely definitively out, but in all probability that’s it for this year. Ah well.

Honestly though, as an England fan, I don’t really mind going out like that. We played two very good sides, had a real go at them, caused Uruguay in particular a lot of problems, but ultimately went out because of defensive failings – just a couple of important lapses, really. I think the before the tournament most people would have looked at the inexperience of Baines, the limitations of Jagielka and the defensive unpredictability of Johnson and said that this was where we lacked real quality.

Hopefully John Stones or Phil Jones or someone can come on strong in the next couple of years and offer something better at the back but for now, whatever you think of that back four, they were pretty unquestionably the best we had – with possible questions to be asked about Ashley Cole. But I doubt any seriously world class strikeforce would look at them and worry about how they were going to score – in fact that applies to most teams at this World Cup, actually.

I think Rooney could have been withdrawn against Italy, and Sturridge should have come off yesterday so we could have seen more of Lallana and Barkley (or The Ox if he was fit), but then Rooney and Sturridge were by far the most consistent English Premier League goal-scorers this year, so it’s not cut and dried.

It would also have been nice to see Wilshere coming on for Gerrard late on to provide a little extra thrust and inventiveness in midfield, but again, these are small quibbles, because you never know when Gerrard might stick one in the top corner from a stupid distance so I can see why he stayed on the pitch.

We had a really difficult group, and had we been luckier with the draw it might have been a different story, as it also might if Diego Godin had rightfully received his marching orders in the first half last night, but hey ho, no team ever went out of the World Cup without a handful of ‘maybes’ following them home.

It sort of highlights our ingratitude during the Svennis years, looking at recent performances. Sure, we ‘could’ have got to the semi-finals in that era, and not entirely implausibly the final. But then again, so ‘could’ Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Holland and a few other teams. ‘Amongst the best eight teams in the world’ was a pretty fair reflection of England’s ability back then, just as going out in the group stages is more or less where we’re at now. Sure, there will be worse teams in the second round than us, but then do Australia really deserve to be going home after the two performances they’ve delivered so far?

Overall though, I don’t mind not being as good as other teams, but having a go and still losing is infinitely better than scraping through after constipated draws and generally playing like we were suffering from some sort of collective paralysis. Watching England over the last, erm, maybe six years or so, has been an exercise in eye-gouging hopelessness. It was kind of like being paralysed by spider venom – no matter how awful things got you just couldn’t tear yourself away until it was finally over and you were put out of your misery once and for all.

This time around we’ve had a go. There’s one game left and it would be nice to put in a good performance against a Costa Rican side who themselves looked really good in their first game. It would be nice to score a couple of decent goals too, and maybe play with a little attacking verve, if just to encourage what looks like a pretty promising batch of young players.

As an England fan, I’ve come to expect failure in recent years, and I can live with that. But going out with some sense of self-respect and our heads held relatively high for a change feels like progress in itself.

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