Italy’s 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday condemned England to their earliest World Cup exit since the 1958 tournament in Sweden.
Despite striker Wayne Rooney’s assertion that his side would have “no excuses” for a premature departure in Brazil, England were eliminated before the squad had even finished their course of anti-malaria tablets.
After the latest in a long list of disappointments at major tournaments, AFP Sports identifies five areas where England came unstuck this time:
1. Too much, too young
– Manager Roy Hodgson received praise for flooding his squad with young, creative players, but England looked unbalanced in their defeats against Uruguay and Italy. Aligning pure attackers such as Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney on the flanks left the full-backs exposed, as demonstrated by the ease with which Antonio Candreva beat Leighton Baines en route to setting up Mario Balotelli for the decisive goal in England’s opening game against Italy. Sterling, 19, shone in a central role against Italy in Manaus, but could not free himself from Uruguay’s shackles in Sao Paulo, while 20-year-old Everton starlet Ross Barkley was unable to make a telling impression as a substitute in either game.
2. Imprecise tactics
– While Hodgson’s 4-2-3-1 formation was well established, England’s approach in Brazil has felt approximative. Although Sterling, Welbeck, Rooney and Daniel Sturridge roamed around the pitch to useful effect in the loss to Italy, their attacking endeavours against the tough-tackling Uruguayans felt desperate rather than methodical. As former England right-back Danny Mills, now a BBC pundit, observed during the Uruguay game: “There is no set pattern to England’s play.”
3. Defensive errors
– All the goals that England have conceded in Group D have been down to basic defensive mistakes. Inattention at a corner allowed Claudio Marchisio to fire Italy ahead in Manaus, while Baines was found wanting in the build-up to Balotelli’s headed winner. Against Uruguay, Edinson Cavani was able to pick out Luis Suarez for the opening goal despite England having six players back, with Phil Jagielka responsible for letting his man ghost into space behind him. Uruguay’s second goal was a disaster from an English perspective, as a route-one punt from goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was allowed to reach Suarez, who had the freedom of the England box to fire past Joe Hart. Former England centre-back Rio Ferdinand described the defending as “schoolboyish”.
4. Lack of midfield composure
– England dominated possession against Uruguay and saw plenty of the ball against Italy, but too often technical deficiencies and unnecessary haste betrayed them. With a team geared exclusively towards attacking at pace, England lacked players capable of drawing the sting from the match by putting a foot on the ball and slowing the pace. At 1-1 against Uruguay, England’s inability to control the game’s tempo proved their undoing. “I just thought when we got the equaliser, we just needed to be a bit more clever, a bit more cute, and a bit more difficult to beat,” admitted Steven Gerrard. “Maybe we should have accepted that going for a point might have been the best option.”
5. Gerrard overwhelmed
– After an emotionally and physically draining season with Liverpool, Gerrard has looked off the pace in Brazil. Used to playing alongside two central midfielders with Liverpool, the skipper had only club-mate Jordan Henderson for company in England’s first two games and the extra exertion seemed to take a toll. He was culpable in the build-up to both of Suarez’s goals for Uruguay, tamely conceding possession before the first and inadvertently heading the ball straight into his Liverpool team-mate’s path for the second. “You’ve got to say Steven Gerrard, in both England’s group games, hasn’t looked sharp,” said former England winger Chris Waddle. “He has not dictated the games.”