World Cup Group Stage Round Up

This may be a long post as this has been one of the most action packed group stages ever!

First off the teams that have dropped out, England, Italy (who were both very unlucky in different ways both of which can perhaps be traced back to an unused red card in the England vs Uruguay game), Portugal, who have suffered from an unfit Ronaldo and Spain who just never recovered from the Holland game. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that these four teams wouldn’t make it through but they didn’t and I don’t think they will be that missed as the next round of games are very interesting.

BRA vs. CHI, COL vs. URU, FRA vs. NGA, GER vs. ALG, NED vs. MEX, CRC vs. GRE, ARG vs. SUI, BEL vs. USA
Those are the next round of games and there are a few that stand out immediately. Brazil vs Chile will be an excellent game and if Chile perform they have a real chance of progression against a Brazil team that have looked very poor defensively and look very reliant on Neymar. Costa Rica have a real chance of progress deep into the tournament which nobody would have predicted, Belgium v USA should be an excellent game, Argentina have been so so average so far apart from a certain Mr Messi and if he continues to perform he could win this tournament on his own. I expect Columbia to beat a Suarezless Uruguay, France to beat Nigeria and Germany to brush aside Algeria but as good as Holland have been I think Mexico, if they perform, could cause them problems. Either way there are a lot of excellent games and one thing is for sure I except the goal to continue to flow!

I have mentioned him a couple of times already but I can’t not go into more details about Luis Suarez. That moment will go down in World Cup infamy alongside Zidanes heatbutt apart from this is much worse because it’s his THIRD offence. One bite is bad, two is crazy but three is down right madness and the four month punishment shows that! He and indeed Uruguay need to take a long hard look at themselves. The Uruguay team, coach and indeed nation seem to have closed around Suarez as though he did nothing wrong. The coach has come out claimed the English media have scapegoated Suarez and are working with FIFA, the Uruguayan people have given Suarez a heroes welcome when he should have got the opposite as he may well have doomed his country for this tournament (also this gives a horrible image of what is right to young children watching but that’s another argument altogether). The player himself is lucky to still be playing in my opinion, he obviously has problems (he has been suspended for 34 games since 2010 without receiving one red card) and if he wasn’t so talented I believe Liverpool wouldn’t hesitate to sell him immediately, indeed they may still do so but that remains to be seen. Many people have come out and said this ban is too long (many of whom are Liverpool fans and I do agree that he has well and truly screwed them over more than anyone else and they have every right to be mad but that anger should be directed at Suarez himself) but when you think of it that if a 2 year old did this you would punish them and he is a grown man who has now done this three times I think that shows that the ban is needed. He has a young child and will one day have to tell them off for biting someone I imagine and that will be a very awkward conversation to listen in on!

This World Cup, for one reason or another, is shaping up to be one of the best ever and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

PS. As an Englishman I’d love to rant about how unlucky we were and how much needs changing within our game but that really is another rant for another time, right now I can enjoy the games as a neutral and just relax knowing whatever happens I won’t be disappointed (unless Uruguay get their hands on the trophy)


England fall again

Devastated. That’s how I feel after the game last night. Leading into this tournament I set my expectations so low but still I’m devastated. Before this tournament, especially after the draw was made I told myself that we would be so lucky to get out of the group but as the squad was named and as we got closer and closer to the start I guess I just couldn’t help but get caught up in the hype and start to believe that maybe, just maybe England’s young guns could impress and surprise at this tournament.

Last night our players weren’t good enough. Gerrard for all of the good he has done over his time with England, was poor but still cant be blamed for the second goal at all, that was poor defending as was the first goal. Sterling is young and promising yes but with time and experience he will learn when to try and take it past a player and when to pass. Henderson and Welbeck aren’t good enough and I personally believe they were only playing to cover our weaknesses in defence. With a stronger back 4 we could have played a much more attacking 11 that would have been able to capitalise on all of the possession we had in the two games and maybe the results would have been different.

For all of the abuse he has got over the past few weeks I thought Wayne Rooney was exceptional last night and was by far our best player, yes he isn’t a world class player but at the end of the day he has 40 international goals and has had the weight of the nation on his shoulders and he is as close as England have been or will get to a world class player for a few years.

I think the problem overall is with English football and the system that is employed.
Raheem Sterling for example was called up to the main squad before he ever played for the under 21’s, no matter how promising a player is they need to have worked their way through the appropriate youth levels first to gain experience of international football. Ideally they should have played in a major tournament at youth level. If this happens you get groups of players coming through the system together and they all have experience of big stage tournaments.

Going forward England need to change, lots of things need to change, some will and some probably won’t. Young English players need to be playing regular football at a high level. James Milner for example played more times for England under 21’s than anyone else and has been a regular fixture in the England set up for many years now but if he was at a club where he could play every week I think he could have been a starter for the past few years.

Our next game will be a friendly against Norway in September and for that game I believe our team should be Hart; Flanagan, Cahill, Stones, Shaw; Jones, Wilshere; Sterling, Barkley, Ox; Sturridge. This is the England team of the future and the team that will give us the best chances of succeeding going forwards. For that game I think Rooney should be rested so we can get a look at an entirely youthful team.

As an England fan I think that the problem lies with our inability as a nation to doubt our football team. After every tournament this happens, we say how bad we are and slate our players, managers and system but then we build ourselves up over the next two years thinking that this tournament will be England’s. The sad truth is that until we have drastic changes within English football I think our trophy drought will continue.

Encouraging Signs for England

“Of the 14 teams we have seen so far, England had more shots on goal than any of them. Needless to say, conversion rate was not in the top 10.

Even more stunning is that England’s passing accuracy ranks 2nd, just behind Italy, but ahead of Spain, Holland and Brazil. Go boys!

Here’s another beauty. For passing accuracy in the opposition’s half, England come out on top. Stats exclude crosses where England are last.”

These three statements have been tweeted by Gary Linekar and for me they sum up why we should be full of optimism despite the rrsult against Italy.

Yes the result wasn’t ideal but the positives were there for all to see and they are so encouraging for me, as an England fan to see, especially with the future in mind. I wouldn’t mind if we go out in group stages as long as we play well because the encouragement would carry over to the Euros when I think we can really challenge.

Going forward I think we need to play Rooney through the middle as he isn’t a winger and he is still one of England’s best players and allow Sterling to attack down the wings and drift in when he pleases and I do still believe we can get through this group.

Off to Rio we go!

So the World Cup is almost upon us and I think the best England team for this tournament looks something like Hart, Jones, Cahill, jagielka, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Barkley, Lallana, Sturridge but I think Roy will go more Hart, Johnson, Cahill, jagielka, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge.

Now in my opinion Johnson is very poor defensively and this will be targeted by stronger teams, he is only here because very few other options and he has international experience.
Barkley is so exciting, always turning and running, so skilful with ball and will scare teams. Rooney for all the good he does in qualifying (39 goals for england, 0 in world cups) he just doesn’t look at his best and we can’t continue to pick players on their names. But as much as I would like to play Barkley he may be a better option coming off the bench and using fresh legs to attack teams.
With Welbeck he will offer more defensivly than Lallana and Sterling but I think with Henderson and Gerrard you want Lallana and Sterling and their attacking edge and skills.

End of the day its a tough group that we will do well to get out. Beyond that I have looked at the different outcomes and the last 16 game should be fine but quarter finals is our limit as i think we will end up facing Brazil or Spain pand I can’t see us winning those games. As an England fan I just want us to play entertaining football and give the fans hope for the future and as a football fan I really do hope this tournament lives up to the expectations.

Ross Barkley

After Wednesday game against Ecuador and indeed most of last season I can’t be the only person who is mightly impressed with Ross Barkley. He is good at getting ball and running at defenders, he has pace, power and as proven against Man City a beautiful shot. He really is one of the brightest young English talents around and here in lies the problem.

“He’s got drive, he’s got energy, But he’s got a lot to learn as well, not least of all when he needs to release the ball, when he can turn with it, when he just needs to secure it, because for every good turn there was a time when he lost the ball and put us on the back foot defensively.”  “Barkley’s rather hoping he can get in the starting XI and be the main man. He has wonderful pace and ball control. What he’s got to learn is at this level every mistake can be crucial. The trick you try at the wrong moment could lead to the turnover that costs you the game. I was anxious to play down the expectations. I’ve seen too many young players lifted to the stars, made the new Keegan, the new Hoddle, the new Gascoigne, the new Terry, the new Rio. Every time someone has a half-good game, they are the new star.” – Roy Hodgson on Ross Barkley after Wednesday’s game.

These were the words of Roy Hodgson after the game on Wednesday and I can see exactly what he is trying to do, he’s trying to stop people like me and everyone else ranting and raving about Ross Barkley being a world beater at 20. He’s trying to lower our expectations so we don’t do what we’ve done with Wayne Rooney and put the weight of all our expectations on one players shoulders for 10 years.
While I can see what Roy is doing I think he needs to be careful about knocking Barkley down too much, after all he is only 20 and the be picked out for criticism after his 1st international can’t feel great. I honestly believe that a quiet word in private would have done better. Yes if you give the ball away against a team like Italy you might not see if again for 10 minutes, and in Manaus you don’t want to be chasing the ball for 10 minutes, but the positives from Ross in that game we’re very encouraging.

“He is a special player, a unique player and this is so rare. He is the biggest talent for his age I have seen in European football. He has power, pace and technical ability – elements you rarely find in a player. He would look at home in the Spanish, German or Dutch models, no doubt about it.” – Roberto Martinez on Ross Barkley

His club manager Roberto Martinez isn’t afraid to say how good he believes Ross is and I truly believe every word, and as an English man it is very exciting but I do also think that while he has potential he is still a long way from being an England starter on a regular basis and being truly one of the best players in Europe, with time he will get there, but right now I think he should be kept in the wings and slowly introduced.
Players like Barkley and Sterling are the future of English football and I would hate to see them burn out young or not be able to handle the pressure the fans and media will inevitably pile onto them so perhaps, for this World Cup at least, they should be kept as impact subs, where I believe they will be able to provide a great impact than if they start every game.

England’s Experiments

“@henrywinter: In training, #eng were Foster; Milner, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Lampard, Wilshere; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley, Rooney; Lambert.”

According to Henry Winter and other media sources this is the side that will face Ecuador on Wednesday in England’s second warm up game. I personally love the idea of Roy experimenting with players and positions because in a World Cup you never know what will happen with injuries etc so better safe than sorry!
Milner at right back could work as Glen Johnson is the one recognised right back and with Phil Jones perhaps lacking some fitness back up is needed.
Wilshere and Barkley in the same side is very exciting as they have the potential to be the future of England’s midfield for years to come and this will be the first real chance to see them together.
Rooney playing left midfield is interesting and I think shows how vital Rooney is to England in the eyes of Roy Hodgson that he would look to play him out of position rather than not play him but it also shows how many good young players we have coming through that Rooney may have to play elsewhere.
Obviously this is an experiment but I think that there could be a couple of these players who play quite big roles in our World Cup so the game experience could be vital

The future’s bright… The future’s England?

This week England’s Under 17s won the European Championships for the 2nd time in 4 years. Surely now the question is can this promising form at under 17 level transfer to successes in the first team?

Since we beat Spain in the final in 2010 they players in the England team have made 958 1st team appearances. 158 of those have been for a top flight team.
The Spanish team that was beaten in that final have gone onto make 1272 1st team appearances, 315 of those have been in top flight, this is almost double that of the English youngsters and this is one of the big problems in English football, the progression of young players to the top level.

From that under 17 team 4 years ago players such as Saido Berahino, Jack Butland, Ross Barkley and Connor Wickham have gone onto play for top flight teams but only Ross Barkley has made it into the England 1st team. (I do think that more of the players from that squad will break into the 1st team).

Some of the other players from that tournament that have gone onto playing regular top flight football are Gerard Deulofeu, Paul Pogba, Yaya Sonogo and Jesé Roríguez.

Having now won the tournament twice in 4 years we need to focus on bring through all of these obviously talented players into the top teams in our country. What they don’t need to be doing is playing in a B league against Conference football teams. The pathway from under 17 European champions to playing regularly in the Premier League is exceptionally complicated when it really shouldn’t be. If a player is young and talented then they should get a chance to play regularly in the top flight but they don’t. Ross Barkley is the massive exception to that rule, more of these players that have just lifted the trophy need to be getting regular appearances in the top flight. 158 for the 2010 class is not enough. Split between the 11 players that’s about 14 games each, that’s 3.5 a year since that victory which obviously isn’t enough.

English football needs to begin building upon these successes that are happening at under 17 level if we have to have any chance of real success in the future.