A reflection: England’s early World Cup exit

Luis Suarez watches his shot fly past Joe Hart and into the net.England go out of the World Cup at the group stage for the first time since 1958. Although expectations were said to be low, elimination by just the ninth day of the competition – before we even get to play our final group game – comes as a shock. So where did it all go wrong for a side that hinted it might do alright?

Roy Hodgson’s men have come up short both in attack and defence. Not by much, but enough on this world stage. Wayne Rooney has been credited as England’s best player in the 2-1 defeat to Uruguay, but he missed two guilt-edged chances before he finally tucked away his debut goal. As annoying as he is, Luis Suarez very rarely needs more than one chance to make an impression.

The lack of conviction in front of goal was just as damaging as the creaking at the back. There’s a case to make that all four goals conceded in both group games so far came from sloppy defending. England were undone by a simple set piece for Italy’s opening goal, while Suarez’s second on Thursday night needs no further analysis. The mistake was plain to see. In between there were individual mistakes from both Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, each losing their man despite occupying good positions.

But football matches are decided on such fine margins. Neither Italy nor Uruguay played impressive, expansive football. I’d be surprised if either side progressed further than the quarter finals. Once level against Uruguay I thought England looked in control and good for a point – until that schoolboy defending with just minutes remaining. And against Italy I thought the performance deserved at least a point.

Having said that, we deserved exactly what we got. We weren’t tight enough at the back and we weren’t clinical enough up front.

Then there was Rooney.

Should he have started out on the left against Italy? Probably not. Despite providing the assist for Daniel Sturridge’s goal, it’s not his favoured position and he offered no cover for Leighton Baines at left back. Moving him into the middle for the Uruguay match was a sensible decision.

But in hindsight you could argue it backfired. He might have been our best player on the night, but given the performance of Sterling in that role – and that of the whole team against Italy – was it such a great idea for Hodgson to tinker with the side? Tinker he did – and it didn’t work out.

As my dad said when I spoke to him on the phone, if you were asked to describe the worst way to go out of the World Cup, it’d be to lose your first match to a Mario Balotelli goal and then to lose your second match to a half-fit Suarez goal, gifted to him on a plate. From that perspective, and with just a dead-rubber against Costa Rica to come, I don’t think this tournament could’ve gone any worse for the England fans.

The reaction to the elimination in the media has been varied. I’ve seen some newspapers declare the performance as “rubbish” while others have been more measured in their assessment, claiming that Hodgson’s men gave it a good go but fell just short. The real answer lies, predictably, somewhere between the two (someone needed to say it).

Should Hodgson remain in charge? Yes – there’s no doubt that the national team has gone through a transitional period during his two-year tenure and it’s difficult to build something when you’re chopping and changing the coach. However, another group exit at Euro 2016 – or a failure to even qualify for the tournament – would surely spell the end for Roy.

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