World Cup 2014 : #4 England exit the greatest World Cup

“It’s not the despair. I can stand the despair. It’s the hope!” [John Cleese in Clockwise, 1986]

Is there anything worse than leaving the party before it really gets going then watching everyone else have a great time? You know the scene; you turn up not really sure what to expect, slightly nervous about the night ahead because your best days are probably behind you. People that arrived before you seem to be sinking the pints quickly and effortlessly, now it’s your turn to go to the bar. You stutter over the order but not to worry, you still get the drinks you wanted. With the confidence of alcohol and belief that it might be your night, despite it being a long time since the last good one, you go over to the dance-floor to get your groove on. It doesn’t go well. Every girl has brought their boyfriend. Limited scoring opportunities here.

Hold on though, you can hear high-pitched screeches and see the inflatable fallace which means one thing; a hen party has arrived. A glimmer of hope. Immediate disappointment shows on your face as it’s a 45 year-old hen who’s brought the rest of the Bowls club with her. It’s only been an hour but you just know it’s not been a good night. To cap it all off you misjudge your drinking and end up throwing up all over the place. A more experienced drinker wouldn’t have done that. As a result the bouncer kicks you out. You retreat from the club and head home the earliest you have done in a long, long time. The rest of that club gets stuck in as the hen party also contained some aspiring page 3 models who turned up as you left. But it’s too late, you can’t go back in now. Poor decision making was costly. So much hope but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the England fan

Enough claptrap, England have crashed out of the World Cup on day nine having played just two matches. Day nine? It’s the earliest exit in over 50 years. The shame has been enhanced by some of the lesser teams doing so well. Chile, Costa Rica and Colombia have been exciting and should all go through to the knock out rounds. It is the most open and attacking World Cup in decades. To the point of writing this 77 goals have been scored in 26 games. Contrast that with this point four years previous in South Africa when only 49 net-ripples were recorded. It’s been a trend of recent tournaments for England to turn up and stink it out with awful performances. This year it didn’t start like that, which lead to optimism in defeat. How rare is that?

England 1-2 Italy

England team v Italy

The Italy game on day three had so much promise. An 11pm kick off our time on a Saturday night against an ageing team who we went toe-to-toe with all the way to penalties just two years prior. Our younger, fearless team would go out and show the Italians that they’re out of touch, we thought. We weren’t expecting as much as before but maybe, just maybe, we could get a result here. Wahoo on West Street was my chosen venue. Jugs of beer ready. Three Lions and World In Motion blaring out and the big screen erected. Here we go!

Italia 90 vs Brasil 14

Sturridge goal captioned in the Italia 90 graphics

The match itself followed how the rest of tournament had started, with good attacking football and a lively, open game. The day before, world champions Spain were humiliated 5-1 by the Netherlands. They looked rocked, old and slow. We couldn’t do the same to the 2006 champions. Roy Hodgson’s selection was very encouraging. Sterling, outstanding for Liverpool the past season, started in an attacking force alongside Rooney and Welbeck, behind Sturridge. It looked fresh, it looked lively and, most importantly, they all caused problems for Italy. Sterling hit a fantastic strike from way outside the box which hit the side-netting but left us all thinking it was a wonder-goal. The BBC scoreboard flashed up ‘GOAL’ and we were all jumping around throwing alcohol about like we were Formula 1 drivers. No goal but plenty of positives. So it was inevitable that Italy then took the lead. It was a very good low drive from Marchisio 20-odd yards out to go one up.

However bad a hangover may be the next day after a football match I guarantee it won’t be as bad as the pain England Physio Gary Lewin had after this match. In a bizarre incident involving water bottles, he managed to break his ankle celebrating Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser. This led to him being stretchered off down the tunnel to provide another iconic World Cup image. Sturridge managed to keep his cool to slot home a great sidefoot finish from Rooney’s perfect cross. Cue a repeat of the jubilant beer-throwing we practised earlier, this time momentarily blinding me. When I was able to see again I did fear that Lewin had maybe suffered a more serious fate, perhaps a heart attack. Fears were put to rest when he appeared on the screen. So it was safe to laugh at him. Smiles weren’t as broad when comic-book villain Mario Balotelli cropped up to head the winner in the second half. “Why always him?” a lazier writer would put. I am lazy, clearly as I was supposed to be writing a separate blog for each match!

Gary Lewin

England physio requires physio

At full-time we found ourselves in the unprecedented position of feeling alright and actually quite positive about England after a defeat. Weird to say, particularly after what happened next, but there was a great deal to take from that match. Roy Hodgson said so himself in the post match interview. Sterling was a phenomenon. We knew he was good but here he came to life bossing the game through the middle. This was at the expense of Wayne Rooney who was forced wide. The pundits post-match called for Rooney to be moved more centrally. Whilst some of the fans agreed, others (including me) thought he should be moved to the bench. It just wasn’t working for him. Elsewhere Sturridge looked good and got the all important goal in his World Cup debut. Even Danny Welbeck looked decent too. The midfield was strong, the attack was lively. The defence had its problems, particularly the full backs, but because we had something going forward we tended to overlook that aspect. Bring on a deflated Uruguay we cried, after their surprise 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica.

England shots

England had more shots than me on a Saturday night in Oxygen

In truth I was never really too concerned about taking on Uruguay. Yes they have great strikers in Cavani and Suarez but I didn’t think they had enough to dominate. That, coupled with the display against Italy, meant my pre-match mood was quietly confident. Boy, how wrong was I?! The line-up was unchanged but the positioning was slightly different; Rooney was pushed into the middle and Sterling moved wider. The pundits got their wish. At the time I couldn’t fathom why the best player in the previous match, the unpredictable threat, was moved to accommodate a man out of sorts and out of luck. I trust in Roy and Gary Neville, I just think this was a mistake. The pressure was now on Rooney to repay them. He had no excuses and had to have a good match.

England v Uruguay

England unchanged for Uruguay

We label Rooney as our only world-class player but time after time he struggles to fulfil that billing for England. Uruguay do have a true world-class player in Luis Suarez. As remarkable as his recovery is having only had an operation a month ago, his threat was constant and he always had the upper hand over our defence. He linked up with his strike partner to open the scoring in the first half with a very nice headed goal. Phil Jagielka seemingly tried to play the offside trap which was a crazy decision given he was only about ten yards out. It was a bad time for Jagielka to have his worst performance for his country. The same goes for Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines. Only Gary Cahill, with his John Terry-like commitment, came out of the game with any sort of praise. The Sturridge of the Italy game was unfortunately replaced by the hesitant, wasteful Sturridge that left Chelsea. It looked so flat and so very hard to score.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney hits the back of the net

Things didn’t change too drastically in the second half. We weren’t creating the chances like we did in the first game. Sterling wasn’t allowed the space and time to run at lightning speed to frighten another ageing defence. Our only serious chances came through, or rather fell to, Wayne Rooney. His free-kick in the first half whistled agonisingly close to the top corner. The TV next door annoyingly is about 3 seconds ahead of the one I was watching on at home so I could hear their cheers turn to “ooooh” before I could see the bloody thing. HD – not quite the wonder of modern broadcasting it thinks it is. I didn’t care about the delay when the chance was finally taken by Wayne with a tap in even that granny prostitute would have scored. (Several years on that reference is still funny.) For those seven or eight minutes after the goal we looked back to our best. The pressure mounted. The bus from Uruguay was well and truly parked. It worked though, they soaked up the brief spell of pressure better than Juan Sheet’s paper towels.

And then came the heartbreaker. The moment which, whilst absolutely gutting, was far from unthinkable. The moment that triggered England to be placed onto a life-support machine. A simple goal kick was flicked on unwittingly by Steven Gerrard to Suarez, who out-thought Jagielka (him again, unfortunately), to smash home with less than ten minutes to go. He latched onto the pass because he gambled that the ball would travel as far as it did. Jagielka again was relying on offside being given and didn’t drop back goal side when the ball was played. A very basic goal to give away. A bit like against Germany in the last World Cup. It’s as if we learned nothing from that great Deutschland dissection.

Would you smash it?

Only the England fans seemed fully fit

The social media crew were quick to point out the horrid stat that never before had we lost our opening two matches. It’s also the first time England have exited in the World Cup group stage since 1958. Finally we have a reference which pre-dates the year we won the thing, whenever that was. I’m starting to doubt we ever did win it. Maybe it was a myth like the moon landing or white dog shit. We’ve tried going into tournaments with massive expectation, we’ve tried with no expectation – whatever happens it is still the worst possible feeling to be knocked out of an international tournament. Never have I experienced the pain so early on. At least in Euro 2000 it was late on in the third match that we blew it. This just feels like it’s over before we even started. I should point out the life support plug was only officially pulled out when Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0 the following day but many had already given up by then, despite Gary Lineker’s best efforts to cheer on the Italians. As the quote at the top suggests, it’s the hope that kills you.

Lineker tries to inspire Italy before their Costa Rica meeting

Lineker tries to inspire Italy before their Costa Rica meeting

There is another match to be played. Costa Rica v England is a poor man’s third place play-off. At least with that match it means you’ve done well and reached the semi finals. This is so far away from the semis it’s like a different competition altogether. It could get the lowest television ratings for an England match ever. I’ll still be watching but part of me is more interested in the Italy v Uruguay game being played simultaneously. Particularly because Andy Hinchcliffe will be co-commentator and he is excellent.

The pundits have come out in force to criticise England, as have the fans. Rightly so. But I have been disappointed to see none of them mention the switch between Stirling and Rooney. So many of them were calling for that change but it hampered us rather than improved us. Chris Waddle was spot on when he said that we aren’t learning from previous mistakes. Thierry Henry and Clarence Seedorf on the BBC explained that it’s not enough to just have decent players, they have to work as a team. Which brings me back to the Rooney argument; he seems to be automatically picked on name alone and the system accommodates him rather than he accommodating the system. There are positives of course; young players will gain experience from this and will hopefully merge a good team with Barkley, Lallana, Luke Shaw and Sturridge at the core. Argentina’s former Real Madrid star Santiago Solari seems to think so. At the Euros two years ago we were saying it was all building towards this World Cup. Now we’re all building towards the 2016 Euros. Sooner or later we are going to have to pause the building work, step up and win games ugly as well as through brilliant football. We need our big players to perform in every big game. No time to hide. If they ain’t doing it they’ve gotta go. I’d like to see Roy remain at the helm. Let’s face it, the European qualifying group is very easy. So make the most of it and forge a great team rather than a few good individuals.

PaddyPower

PaddyPower’s list of media exit cliches

In the meantime the tournament continues with three games a day for the next few days then the knockout stages bring it up a notch. The World Cup has been so great so far. There have been only a couple of poor games. The coverage has been superb, particularly in the studio, from the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Danny Murphy, Martin O’Neill, Patrick Vieira and the aforementioned Henry and Seedorf. The game goes on without England. Not too many outside these shores will give a hoot. We just aren’t very good. I’m off to support Germany now so let’s hope we can end that awful 24 year wait for a trophy!

HIGHLIGHTS England 1-2 Italy with Joe Speight
HIGHLIGHTS England 1-2 Uruguay with Guy Mowbray & Phil Neville

WATCH BBC pundits analyse Rooney’s performance after the Italy game
WATCH BBC pundits react to England’s sad exit
WATCH Roy Hodgson’s interview with Gabby Logan after the Uruguay match
WATCH Glenn Hoddle’s view on Wayne Rooney’s future
WATCH Argentinian Santiago Solari chatting with Lynsey Hipgrave about a brighter future for England

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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