Hate to be a smart-arse but I predicted (on record) that England would not get out of their group; they would be on the wrong end of some suspicious officiating; Suarez would do them in the Uruguay game. FIFA ranked England third in Group D which, pending the outcome of the Costa Rica dead rubber, is just about right. One of the few instances FIFA have pronounced on anything correctly.
We'll deal with the racist-abusing, biting, diving Suarez another day. Meanwhile let's look at some facts. This, everybody needs reminding, is a WINTER WORLD CUP. Sure, the equatorial cities are fairly constant in climate all year round, but the southern ones like São Paulo, Porto Alegre, even Rio, can get quite chilly. The FA placed much emphasis on conditions in Manuas. São Paulo, however, was cold, wet and not too far over the border from Uruguay, making it a home game for them with native weather to boot. Uruguay, apparently, didn't base themselves in Brazil but had remained in Montevideo up to this point, doing no tropical acclimatisation, which may account for their failure against Costa Rica in Fortaleza. They were also without Suarez. One likes to think the FA took all this into account in their intelligence-gathering. But you do wonder.
Coast Rica are good, make no mistake about it. They have a solid bunch of MLS players. Football in the US should not be underestimated. Given their victory over Italy, does England's heroic failure against the latter now say more about the Italians than it does about us?
With regard to Roy Hodgson, he seems a decent bloke whom the players like. I don't see he could have done much better with the players at his disposal. Although, as blogged previously, he should have taken Ashley Cole and, given the right circumstances, John Terry. I find it wryly amusing that poor old Roy, absolutely battered for his previous caution and preference for 4-4-2 (the formula which got England, solidly if unremarkably, to Brazil), is now being hauled across the coals for opting for youth and flair, the very thing the media was salivating over up until... er... about 10pm Thursday.
Bottom line is, England simply haven't got the players. How many would have got into the Italy or Uruguay teams on their performance in the tournament? How many English players play in the top technical club leagues — i.e. Spain, Italy and Germany? Answer: none. The only British player playing at top Continental level is Gareth Bale. Our players simply do not have the technical ability. In fact we don't even play football in this country — not the sport that other countries excel at. It looks the same, sounds the same, feels the same, smells the same. But it isn't the same. Until we start playing that game, Chris Waddle will continue with his quadrennial radio rant.
And finally, a tactical point. People talk about systems. Terry Venables said it's never about the system, it's about the players, which is probably true. But here's a thing... in the only two tournaments in the last quarter century in which England gave a decent account of themselves — 1990 and 1996 — the team played with three centre backs and two wing backs, the 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 system, depending on which way you look at it.
Before we get too misty-eyed over 1990, it should be reminded that England stunk that tournament out, too, until a player revolt forced dear old Bobby Robson to switch to 5-3-2. But suddenly, with a solid defensive line and the creative players free to roam, defensive responsibilities devolved, England looked unbeatable (Robson, bless him, still reverted to 4-4-2 in the last part of a game, just to show who was boss). Even Graham Taylor in his first few games, when he persisted with this system, looked, fleetingly, like he had a world class team. The same applied after early lukewarmness in Euro '96 when Venables adapted his "Christmas tree". And then came Glenn Hoddle. England didn't go far in 1998, but luck played a part in that. When Hoddle used wing backs, England looked impressive, too.
Football's moved on, you say. Stop harking back. I only mention it because the Dutch are currently employing this method.