Friday, March 29, 2013

England Won't Top World Cup Qualifying Group

I was a believer, or at least I really wanted to be a believer. I believed that Roy Hodgson and this England team could take care of business in an interesting Europe World Cup Qualifying Group H. I believed that despite the talent that this team had lost and the fresh memories of being completely dominated by Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals that this team could still be competitive and should make short work of reaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I have to admit now that I was wrong. I do not see England winning their Group H anymore placing their World Cup place in the balance.

Of course there are reasons we can find to stay optimistic and not to get pessimistic. Hodgson's team play three of the final four group matches at home, including a crucial tie against current group leaders Montenegro. There will also be those that point to the fantastic and dominating first half display against Montenegro on Tuesday as evidence of the sort of football this team can play.

The problem is that none of this, absolutely none of this aligns with what we have all been witnessing on the field with this team.

England have won three games in Group H so far and drawn three. The three wins have come against San Marino (twice) and Moldova by a combined score of 18-0. Those results demonstrate without any doubt that this is a team that can get on top of teams and has the skill and talent to dominate teams when it gets on top of them.

However, their other three results have all been disappointing 1-1 draws. First, they needed a desperate late penalty to draw with Ukraine at Wembley Stadium. They were then outplayed in Poland by Poland and potentially can consider themselves fortunate to have escaped with a 1-1 draw there as well. Finally on Tuesday night after arguably playing their best football of the competition so far, they played a poor second half and were lucky to hold on for a draw after being dominated by Montenegro.

England will probably thrash Moldova again at home in September, but does anyone really believe they can go to Kiev and get more than a draw against Ukraine? That leaves a pair of home games against Montenegro and Poland to decide their fate in October. On paper that looks do-able, but the evidence we've seen so far suggests it just isn't likely.

Hodgson's England are guilty of doing what just about every England team has done for more than a decade. They play the big games and the big moments as if petrified by fear. The aggression and furious pace they played with in the first half Tuesday was a clear sign of what a young side could be capable of. Yes, Montenegro made some strong adjustments,but England also responded negatively to it. They didn't attack the battle in midfield, they squandered possession and lost the incisiveness in their attack.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that there really hasn't been any formal recognition made by members of the team that changes need to be made and specifically that playing style and tactics are at the core of what is wrong with England right now. Until those admissions are made, it looks like England will need a playoff game to book their place in Rio.

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