England manager Roy Hodgson this week claimed that England’s 2-2 draw against Brazil "felt like a victory" after watching his side bounce back from a monotonous draw against the Republic of Ireland a week earlier.
In his programme notes before the 1-1 scoreline against Ireland, Hodgson pleaded with fans “not to chant songs that could be regarded as insulting to others”, but the resounding feeling around the ground was that this reference to the political sensitivity of the fixture was being used to distract from the very real concerns of the night.
The match itself was trouble-free. In a set of fixtures that was supposed to celebrate the FA’s 150th anniversary, the reality dawned that current England fans actually have very little to be joyous about.
For the duration of this argument, we can overlook the futility of post-season friendlies, when already exhausted players are wheeled out with little purpose other than to advertise the new England kit.
At Wembley, Ireland showed promising signs of their fighting spirit and determination in defence, both of which will hold them in the run-up to the World Cup qualifiers. Sadly, these days the most notable feature of the England team, is that nobody knows who is actually in it.
Hodgson has now been in the job for a year, but is still in the process of endless rotation rather than deciding on a favoured eleven and sticking to it.
Sven Goran-Eriksson was, at times, pilloried by the press, but the Swede led the Three Lions to three successive quarter-finals at major tournaments.
Most crucially, under Sven, England had a consistent starting eleven.
Hodgson’s side, on the other hand, are unable to gel because they are simply not left alone for long enough. Even if Eriksson was blessed with the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, he seemed altogether more tactically aware.
Admittedly, England did raise their game dramatically against the Samba Boys at the Maracana Stadium, and performed unexpectedly well in humid conditions – it is worth remembering that next year’s World Cup will be held in Brazil.
Joe Hart was the star of the first half when it looked to be only a matter of time before England found themselves trailing hopelessly behind. They appeared to emulate the spirit they Irish had shown at Wembley a week before, battling back to go into the lead with goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wayne Rooney.
Rooney looked far more comfortable than he had done against Ireland, where he and Theo Walcott had struggled to latch onto each other’s passes.
The job of England manager is without doubt a poisoned chalice. Little good can come of managing England, barring some vague sense of fulfilled personal patriotism, and after just a year, Hodgson is already finding this to be the case.
His vast international managerial experience was never enough to prepare him for arguably the most difficult job in football. In some strange Wenger-esque way, Hodgson has at least tried to give youngsters a chance on the international stage (though this is surely Stuart Pearce’s responsibility, as manager of England under-21s).
Oxlade-Chamberlain hadn’t started for Arsenal in two months, but Hodgson placed his trust in the youngster against Ireland. Whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain did not disappoint on the night, it is certainly debatable how many of Hodgson’s youths would even be in contention for a place in any of the world’s top sides.
England are staring in the face the horrifying prospect of being transformed from lions into cubs.
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