England’s World Cup embarrassment in Brazil has already hit rock bottom . . . but Roy Hodgson’s men have a golden opportunity to make amends for what happened 64 years ago when the side skippered by Billy Wright crashed to an infamous 1-0 defeat by the USA.
The truth is that for once the huge weight of expectation will be less of a burden for Team England, who arrived in Rio in 1950 with a reputation as the “Kings of Football.”
Ever since our solitary triumph in 1966 and heroic attempt to defend the trophy in 1970, expectations have invariably outweighed the strength of our challenge for the FIFA World Cup Trophy. This time around no one expects England to triumph. While Hodgson has assembled an England team with an exciting blend of youth and experience.
Consequently, there is a glorious opportunity to restore lost pride. Not by winning the tournament, but by playing a style of football that will give us something to build on for the future.
This we can do if Hodgson has the strength of character to give youth a chance and make the right selections, starting with the opening match against Italy on Saturday.While the mass media play their predictable role of chipping away at morale, this time targeting Wayne Rooney for negative attention, Hodgson has shown his class by deflecting all the barbed comments and creating a team unity the likes of which we have not seen in the England camp for some years.In Steven Gerrard the manager has a skipper who has matured into the role he richly deserves and will inspire the outstanding kids around him as well as motivate the more senior players to do themselves justice.The media spotlight is on Rooney to deliver after his previous injury-hampered failures at the World Cup. And there are those who believe the hugely talented Ross Barkley is ready to push Wazza out of the starting line up. But the reality is that the rich seam of outstanding young talent will bring the best out of Rooney and the other established stars.
Too many times on the biggest stage England’s finest have frozen, overwhelmed by the fear of failure. But this time Gerrard and Rooney will revel in the spotlight because they are surrounded by an exciting crop of confident kids who will shine in the heat of Brazil.
In Hodgson we have the first English born manager since World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey, one of the players on the receiving end of that 1950 humiliation by USA, who has relevant tournament experience at international level.
The former manager of Switzerland was not the people’s choice when he landed the top job ahead of Harry Redknapp. But there has never been any doubt in my mind that Hodgson will restore pride in Team England and there is a tangible sense of togetherness about the squad that arrived in Brazil.
To restore lost pride will be just as important as winning matches in Brazil because we have become a second tier nation accustomed to humiliation and under achievement.
Simply getting out of a group that includes Uruguay, Costa Rica and an opening match against Italy would be an outstanding result.Even if we fail to qualify for the latter stages, how satisfying will it be to see hugely talented youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Barclay scare the living daylights out of Italy? The odds are that England will again fail to beat the Italians when the two sides meet in the Amazonian jungle on Saturday night. But give the kids a chance and play to our full potential and the nation will thank Hodgson for doing the right thing.
Mark my words, if Gerrard, Rooney and the kids kick off their Italian job with a victory then World Cup fever will sweep through England like wildfire and the shame of 1950 in Belo Horizonte will be well and truly buried in the sands of time.