Judging by some of the reaction in the media following England’s defeat to Italy, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that England’s tournament had already ended and that we’d crashed out in a manner that typifies the English national team. Whilst the fact that England were beaten might not have surprised too many, those who watched the game would know that the performance was on another planet to the many lifeless major tournament displays that England have produced in years gone by, particularly from four years ago.
As always, during the period of intense scrutiny following an England defeat, individuals have been targeted for criticism and in this case it has inevitably been Wayne Rooney. Rooney is now considered as England’s main man and a talismanic figure. With this comes an extraordinary amount of pressure to perform. Another major factor that isn’t in his favour is that he hasn’t yet scored a goal at a World Cup. This statistic could suggest that he’s due one on the biggest stage. Instead, the bare fact that he is yet to do so is used as a stick to hit him with and every time he misses a chance to end his drought, the criticism and the pressure on him intensifies. The best chance England had to equalise in the second half of the Italy game fell to Rooney but he fired wide of the target. It was undeniably a bad miss and nine times out of ten, he would have buried it.
However, it was not solely Wayne Rooney’s fault that England lost. In fact I wouldn’t apportion any blame on Rooney at all. First and foremost, he was played out of position. He was put on the left of a 4-2-3-1 formation. For me this was the one major mistake by Roy Hodgson in his team selection, you simply have to maximise the potential of your star players by playing them in their natural positions. As mentioned above, he is England’s main man therefore the team should be built around him. England haven’t got a star-studded line-up so we shouldn’t be trying, and don’t need to try, to accommodate other players by lessening Rooney’s impact. He is a goal scorer and can also create goals for others. He should have been played behind Daniel Sturridge, in a central position, and this is where he should be played in England’s system to get the most out of him.
Whilst his miss was hugely disappointing and frustrating, his cross for Daniel Sturridge to equalise (which was ironically from a wide left position) in the first half was top class. Had he have also converted his chance, he would have come out of the game with a goal and an assist despite being played on the left. That would have been an excellent performance given the quality of the opposition. He’d have also been the hero rather than the villain. Nobody would have even contemplated the possibility of dropping him for the crucial game against Uruguay. The fact that there have been suggestions that he could and should be dropped just shows how knee-jerk the reaction to the defeat has been. This is a crucial game and one we must not lose if we are to qualify for the next round and therefore we need our best players, namely Wayne Rooney.
At the same time as criticising Wayne Rooney and our own players and team, we also start overly hyping up the opposition. Let’s be honest here, we don’t fear Uruguay. We fear Luis Suarez. Judging by the respective performances of England and Uruguay in their opening games, we should be very confident of winning. Both teams lost but there were many more positives for England to take than Uruguay who were rather comfortably beaten by the group minnows Costa Rica. Uruguay may have been without Suarez for that game but surely this proves that the rest of their team isn’t as great as many people believe.
Obviously it’ll be far from easy, quite the opposite in fact. It’s never easy for England due to all the pressure we put ourselves under and the expectations we all have. However, if we can replicate the same level of effort and endeavour from the Italy game and add a bit more quality in the final third which will surely happen if Rooney plays alongside or just behind Sturridge (just as long as it’s a central position), we should win the game.
Photo: cortexena xen (via Flickr)