World Cup 2014 – An overview thus far

Of course we got the usual knee-jerk reactions to England’s appallingly early exit from the World Cup with calls for Roy Hodgson’s head. But it matters not, really, who is the man who gets paid handsomely to write some names on a sheet of paper and organise his coaching. Bottom line, simplistic as it may seem, we were not good enough and haven’t been good enough for some time. And whoever is England manager he can only work with the raw materials he has available.

Thousands of column inches and many hours of air time have been dedicated to getting to the bottom of why we should be so abject when it comes to international tournaments, and still we haven’t got the message.

There is no single answer. No one factor that, if addressed, would magically produce a team that does anywhere near (not good English but the drift is there) as well as it should. However there is something that struck me over the last bunch of matches, particularly watching Costa Rica, Nigeria, Algeria and Ghana, and it was the athleticism of their players.

When that thought struck me, on the many occasions players of those teams, applied themselves, particularly when moving forward and counter-attacking, it was the speed and power that stood out. My next thought was, England, and trying desperately to seek a comparison. I failed miserably because with all due respect to the top players from our top league, arguably the best in the world, who have worn the Three Lions in Brazil, none of them comes remotely close to being an athlete.

Yes our players have power and resilience but because the other aspects of being a top footballer, at international level; touch, technical skill and tactical awareness are sadly lacking or, at best, deficient, strength and aggression are not enough.

I refer back to a previous article where I wrote that England were too reliant on six or seven mediocre, square, nay training ground passes rather than each receiver of the ball seeking a telling forward pass rather than safety first. Compare that with the style of play that has lit up this free-scoring World Cup where players unknown to us with very long names on their shirts, once they get possession, are more inclined to put their foot on the gas and burst past an opponent with the ball. Such an approach gains ground and turns defence into attack and has the watching millions applauding the way so called ‘underdogs’ have been embarrassing established nations.

Look at the way Algeria blitzed South Korea with their, dare I state it, ‘gung ho’ approach but gung ho football that was technically superb and allied to a committed work ethic. How many times have we heard from those pundits who had their summer hols at the expense of ITV or BBC say ‘football is all about a balance’.

It is and Algeria’s game on Sunday was almost the perfect balance. Yes they did conceded goals but 4-2 is a better spectacle than 4-0 and kept up the standard of high-scoring games we have all enjoyed since the tournament kicked off.

The beauty of having athletic players is they have the physicality to execute the superior technical ability just about everyone coached outside these shores seems to have. Unfortunately despite the plethora of fitness coaches, dieticians, analysts etc that have flooded our domestic game in recent years we don’t seem to be able to develop athletes who can play football.

I am sincerely hoping that one of the ‘lesser nation’ progresses to the last four where, in all likelihood, the best they could finish with is the bronze for third place.

Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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