No excuses. No one to blame but themselves. Feeble defending has sent England home from the World Cup.
Costa Rica’s surprise 1-0 win over Italy on Friday meant that England made its most humiliating exit from a World Cup since 1958, following consecutive defeats by the Italians and then Uruguay in Group D.
Back in the 1950s, millions of pounds (dollars) weren’t spent on preparing the team, and the players weren’t supported by more than 50 staff members – as the 2014 squad are in Brazil. Pampered in Miami before heading to a beachside base in Rio de Janeiro after squad grumblings about the isolated South Africa HQ in 2010, the Football Association’s preparations were meticulous.
Everything the defending wasn’t in Brazil.
“We maybe should have accepted that going for a point might have been the best option,” captain Steve Gerrard said after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Uruguay.
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Whether the England defense was up to grinding out a draw is questionable with the defenders at Roy Hodgson’s disposal. Although, given the back-to-back lapses against Italy and Uruguay, maybe England just doesn’t have international quality defenders anymore. Going back to Bobby Moore, England’s World Cup wining captain in 1966, solid center backs formed the bedrock of the team, with Terry Butcher, Tony Adams and Rio Ferdinand filling the position in later years.
Phil Jagielka (Everton) and Gary Cahill (Chelsea) play for teams which finished in the top five last season and appeared to have forged a solid international partnership, not losing any of their 13 internationals together before the World Cup. But they struggled to adapt to the most testing of football occasions, leaving England exposed too often in front of goal against Italy and Uruguay for four goals.
Mario Balotelli evaded Cahill with ease at the far post to head in Italy’s winner on Saturday. England didn’t learn against Uruguay, with Cahill failing to close down Edinson Cavani before he chipped the ball to Luis Suarez, who shook off Jagielka and headed home.
“They were sloppy goals (to concede) and we have to take responsibility for that as a team,” said Gerrard, who inadvertently flicked the ball on for Suarez’s second.
England was desperately lacking the leadership of John Terry marshalling the back four. Even at 33, Terry regained his form and his place into the Chelsea team, but turned his back on England in 2012 before being found guilty by the FA of racially abusing an opponent in a Premier League match. The only sight of Terry wearing the Three Lions jersey on Thursday was the picture he uploaded ahead of the Uruguay match on Instagram, wishing the team luck.
“When players retire, we move on,” was Hodgson’s message ahead of the World Cup.
However, the center backs aren’t the only ones to have looked shaky. Full backs have been able to break forward but less adept defending.
Antonio Candreva swept past left back Leighton Baines with ease before providing the cross Balotelli scored from on Saturday. Hodgson overlooked the more experienced Ashley Cole for the tournament, with the Chelsea defender rejecting a chance to be on the standby list after Luke Shaw was selected as Baines’ cover. It’s unclear why the promising 18-year-old Southampton player was brought to Brazil since he hasn’t featured in either game.
”I don’t think we have given up too many chances in the two games, but when we have, we have been punished,” Baines said. “The tournament has been a bit like that. There have been a lot of goals so far and we’ll have to look at it in the next couple of days.”
Although Glen Johnson set up Wayne Rooney’s first World Cup goal in the Uruguay match, the right back’s work in defense has been a constant concern over the last month with the lack of adequate cover.
For all England’s occasional flashes of pace and creativity at the front, predominately against Italy, the team always looked too fragile at the back. Not that Hodgson’s tactics were faultless. Pushing Raheem Sterling to the left flank against Uruguay having been so dynamic in the No. 10 playmaker role against Italy, allowed Rooney to return to his favored central position but meant the Liverpool player’s impact was more limited.
“I have played in teams a lot worse than this and come away with a win,” was Cahill’s verdict.
In Brazil, though, Cahill and his teammates had no such luck.