Drawn with Uruguay and Italy, it will be dif­fi­cult for Eng­land, but suc­ceed and they may just go on an un­ex­pected run

The Economic Times - - Sports - VI­RAJ NAIR

There’s an im­age that continues to haunt Liver­pool fans — a hap­less Roy Hodg­son rub­bing his face like a magic lamp af­ter a late Joey Bar­ton goal for New­cas­tle in 2010. This was one of many chas­ten­ing de­feats the Mersey­side club suf­fered un­der his brief stew­ard­ship. Un­for­tu­nately for Hodg­son, no ge­nie emerged to res­cue the sit­u­a­tion. His spel l at Liver pool un­fai rly earned him a rep­u­ta­tion for tac­ti­cal con­ser­vatism given his pref­er­ence for an an­ti­quated and rigid 4-4-2 for­ma­tion in the face of the far more f luid and dy­namic styles that were gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in global foot­ball. Yet a lit­tle more than three years af­ter his Liver­pool de­ba­cle, the 66-year old coach an­nounced one of the most ex­cit­ing young squads named by an Eng­land man­ager. By way of ex­pla­na­tion, he hailed the per­for­mances of Eng­land’s young­sters in re­cent months, con­fess­ing that their scin­til­lat­ing play made his de­ci­sions easy. “They’ve played so well, been so ef­fec­tive, that they have im­posed them­selves and im­posed their abil­ity on my think­ing,” he said. The squad has only six sur­vivors from the team that was hu­mil­i­ated by Ger­many in South Africa four years ago. Iron­i­cally, his Eng­land team looks dis­tinc­tively Liver­pudlian—a team now known for swash­buck­ling, at­tack­ing foot­ball and a far cry from Hodg­son’s dys­func­tional, long-ball unit that lan­guished in the lower reaches of the Pre­mier League. One of Hodg­son’s big­gest calls was to leave out ex­pe­ri­enced left back Ash­ley Cole in favour of Ever­ton’s Leighton Baines and Southamp­ton’s 18-year-old Luke Shaw. It is a de­ci­sion that has drawn crit­i­cism, given the lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in Eng­land’s de­fence. The back­line will li kely com­prise Bai nes, his Ever­ton team­mate Phil Jagielka, Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Liver­pool’s Glen John­son, mar­shalled by Man City’s Joe Hart in goal.

Drawn in the prover­bial group of death or at least one of the tough­est groups, Eng­land’s de­fence looks far from wa­ter­tight. The 33-year old Cole could have added much needed nous to this rear-guard.

Yet there is much logic in Hodg­son’s think­ing. “How do you get ex­pe­ri­ence? You get it by get­ting the op­por­tu­nity … It’s a catch-22 … But the bal­ance is good. Ev­ery­one is in­ex­pe­ri­enced un­til they get the chance to do the job,” he ex­plained.

While Liver­pool may have laid an ex­cit­ing blue­print, it re­mains to be seen how Hodg­son’s Eng­land lines up in Brazil. Wayne Rooney will be a cer­tain starter; so will Steven Ger­rard, who servers as a ball-play­ing de­fen­sive mid­fielder for Liver­pool.

For the sex­a­ge­nar­ian, who has man­aged six­teen dif­fer­ent teams in eight coun­tries, this is by far the big­gest tour­na­ment of his ca­reer. At West Brom, away from the lime­light of Liver­pool, he re­built his rep­u­ta­tion. On a shoe-string budget, he achieved sev­era l i mpres­sive re­sults with the B a g g i e s , i nc lud i n g d e - feat­ing his for­mer club at An­field for the first time since 1967. When Fabio Capello re­signed, Hodg­son was not the pop­u­lar pick to suc­ceed him as Eng­land’s new coach, with many fans and sec­tions of the me­dia root­ing for for­mer Tot­ten­ham man­ager Harry Red­knapp. The FA ul­ti­mately chose Hodg­son, re­ward­ing him for sev­eral well-trav­elled years in man­age­ment that in­cluded two stints at In­ter Mi­lan and a spell in charge of Switzer­land. It could very eas­ily end in an early f light home for Eng­land’s young stars, es­pe­cially if Hodg­son is un­able to get his band of at­tack­ing talent (Daniel Stur­ridge, Wayne Rooney, Ra­heem Ster­ling, Adam Lal­lana and Alex Ox­alade-Cham­ber­lain) to gel. It’s a tough ask, drawn in a group that in­cludes Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. Emerge from this group and Eng­land may just go on an un­ex­pected run.

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