A month on from a memorable night at Wembley, the optimism that created is in danger of being wiped away after two defeats ended England’s 2013 campaign. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
ROY HODGSON last night insisted England fans should look forward to the World Cup with optimism despite his side becoming the first in a generation to suffer back-to-back defeats at Wembley.
The Three Lions ended their 2013 programme in disappointing fashion on Tuesday night with a 1-0 home defeat to Germany.
Following on from the 2-0 loss against Chile five days earlier, it meant Hodgson’s men became the first since 1977 – when Wales and Scotland triumphed at the national stadium – to be beaten on home soil in quick succession.
Asked if the euphoria of qualification had been swept away by the events of the past week, the England chief said: “That is the risk, I suppose. That is what defeats do to you.
“But I think that would be a disappointing attitude, I would rather like to think that what we did in qualifying, especially in the latter qualifying games, still gives us some credit and is a reason for optimism.
“I think the way we have used these two games and the number of players we have used in them should not really detract from the fact that we didn’t win them.
“And, therefore, the good performances and good feeling that came in October has suddenly dissipated just because we didn’t win these ones.”
Hodgson’s plea is understandable. But, judging by the boos that rained down from the stands after both friendly defeats, he faces an uphill battle to keep optimism levels high.
It wasn’t just the defeats that left the Wembley crowd unhappy, with England’s performances on both occasions being hugely disappointing.
In the most recent defeat, Germany, despite missing many key players as coach Joachim Low instead chose to focus on his team’s friendly with Italy, were easy winners and but for Joe Hart would have won by a much more convincing margin.
England passed the ball neatly, particularly in the first half. But they rarely threatened Roman Weidenfeller’s goal, other than when Andros Townsend cut inside from the right flank during the second half and unleashed a 25-yard shot that struck a post.
Townsend also had a couple of dangerous runs, underlining how quickly the Tottenham Hotspur man has moved ahead of Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon as the Three Lions’ most dangerous option on the right.
Other than the one-time Leeds United loanee, however, England lacked potency with neither Wayne Rooney nor Daniel Sturridge provided with the service that they have thrived upon in the Premier League this term.
Hodgson praised Adam Lallana but the Southampton man was rarely used in the same role he fills for his club side, while the less said about the defence the better.
England were all at sea at times, with Ashley Cole showing why he is no longer first-choice at Chelsea. Chris Smalling was also at fault for what turned out to be the winning goal by Per Mertesacker, who put in the type of commanding performance at the back for Germany that underlined just what Hodgson is lacking in his own defence.
England’s struggles in defence led, in some quarters, to calls for John Terry to be brought out of retirement. Danny Mills, who is part of Greg Dyke’s FA Commission, was one of those backing the Chelsea man but Hodgson said: “John retired a long time ago, right at the very start of our qualifying campaign. We have played nine games without him. We have qualified without losing a game.
“I think (Gary) Cahill and Jagielka have done a good job at centre back, I think Chris Smalling showed against Germany he is a very good centre back in the making.
“I think it is time for us to keep moving forward and not every time we lose a game start to turn back to someone who has been a fantastic player in the past.”
Hodgson has just one more friendly – against Denmark on March 5 – to assess his options in a game before naming his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup in early May. He said: “The fact that one or two weren’t at their best doesn’t mean they don’t have that quality.”