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Talking points: England’s World Cup has been a failure, but context is important

Jun 19, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT

An England fan reacts following Uruguay's 2-1 victory over England in the group D World Cup soccer match between Uruguay and England at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) AP

After 180 minutes, England’s knockout round fate is in Italy’s hands, with the Three Lions’ 2-1 loss to Uruguay meaning anything but an Azzurri win on Friday will send the former champions out. Even if the Italians stumble against Costa Rica, there are very few scenarios for Tuesday’s Group D finale that will put England into the knockout round. If bottom lines are your thing, Brazil 2014’s will be an indictment for Roy Hodgson’s squad.

In context, however, the conclusions are so clear. A tough Group D meant one knockout round hopeful was going home early regardless, while two close matches against strong teams meant England’s record only partially reflected its quality on the field. If you’re making a list of things to blame for England’s poor result, put “FIFA ping-pong balls” at the top. Drawn into a number of other groups, England would be going through.

Regardless, after today’s loss, England’s probably down to 90 minutes at this year’s World Cup, and while that will draw the ire of some, there’s no reason to cast too much gloom on mixed if disappointing results. Our three talking points.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

1. Two days, two groups of death … - Maybe we’re going about this Group of Death-thing all wrong. I’ve harped on the U.S. side of this enough, so no use recycling those thoughts, but given what we’ve seen from Group B (Spain: out) and Group D (England: almost out), we should rethink how we go about this label. Whereas we’ve to slap it on the toughest group, we should start playing to what the term actually means.

There are groups which, because of their draw, will provide a renown team a quick, potentially unfair (in light of the other groups) exit; a death, if you will. On Wednesday, we saw it with Spain, and now we’ve seen it with England, a team that has the quality to get out of five other groups. Two ex-champions, among the world’s most popular teams, are probably going home before the knockout round, given a premature departure because of the depth of their groups.

Instead of acknowledging a single Group of Death, maybe we need to be more liberal with the label. With Chile, the Netherlands, and Spain, Group B was a Group of Death, ending the reign of one of international soccer’s most dominant teams. And Group D, featuring three teams that have final eight quality, will likely send England home before the tournament’s first cut.

As much as England’s tournament is about its shortcomings, it’s also about an extremely tough draw.

source: AP

England’s Wayne Rooney scored his first World Cup goal, but for the second straight match, he and his team fell, 2-1. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

2. … so let’s not be too brazen about England’s failings – What have we learned over the Three Lions’ 180 minutes in Brazil? That they’re not as good as Italy? We already suspected that. Italy showed its quality at Euro 2012. To the extent England can compete against Italy, it’s more about matchups (fast attackers against a slow defense) than the overall quality of the squads.

Did we learn that England’s not as good as Uruguay? Before the tournament started, that was less certain, but La Celeste are reigning South American champions. They also made the semifinals on at South Africa 2010, a depth England hasn’t reached in 24 years. If England’s not up to Uruguay’s standard, it’s certainly nothing to worry about.

Alas, England fans will worry, and it’s hard to blame them. The final result just wasn’t good enough, but when you consider the strength of the Three Lions’ group and the stage this team’s at in its development, the result’s nothing to worry about.

Not only was England competitive against good squads, but better days are ahead for a still maturing core.

3. Can’t say enough about Suárez - Rightfully, people are criticizing the English defense. When a team gives up four goals in two games, some post-mortem is required. Maybe Hodgson should have brought John Terry out of retirement, picked Ashley Cole, and sided with cohesion by playing a mostly Chelsea back line?

To the extent England’s defense failed, it was in moments, not spans. Perhaps the familiarity of three Chelsea players would have solved the problem (even though it didn’t seem to help Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines).

There is, however, another way to look at what happened. After all Uruguay only got two shots on target. Italy, for that matter only had four. It’s not like the Three Lions were giving up a slew of chances. Their failings were isolated, made more dangerous by striking talent few teams have in their squads.

For Italy, it was Mario Balotelli, who put himself in a position that was nearly impossible for Cahill to defend. Against Uruguay, it was Suárez, who showed his Liverpool teammates what it’s like to be on the other side of a match-winning kind of performance. While teams like the Netherlands do have similarly talented strikers, most teams at the World Cup don’t. Again, England’s draw came back to haunt them.

Though England could have done better on Uruguay’s first goal, Suárez deserves credit for pulling off a finish that few would have had the sense or technique convert, and while the second goal was a less forgivable failing, players like Suárez make you pay.

We’re seen plenty of other players blow those types of chances. Suárez did not. As a result, England’s on the brink of going out.

  1. geojock - Jun 19, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    I dont follow you on the logic that the collapse of Spain and England somehow indicates that their groups are harder than we thought. Uruguay has proved nothing so far other than they are better than England and worse than Costa Rica. Both have tough groups, but their collapse does not further prove the difficulty of the groups. It only shows that the groups are as difficult as we thought or less than as difficult as we thought because Spain and England weren’t the teams we thought they were.

  2. gregalthoff - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    Suarez is off to Real Madrid. This was his middle finger game.

  3. navyeoddavee9 - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    So does Hodgson still think Suarez is not world class?

  4. jucam1 - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    I FULLY agree with Geojock’s comment. Either you’re perspective is insanely buas or your watching a different Cup than the rest if us. England is a decent team but the even play I have seen in other groups and how good some of those teams are only shows that England just isn’t up to par, it says nothing about the quality of dome other groups. Sure, did Argentina get a little luckier than most? Probably, but almost every other group has two to 3 really good teams that England would really struggle against. Don’t drop the efforts of other good national teams to explain the lack of quality if this England squad. They need to get rid of all the left overs from their @golden generation” and work with some of the more dynamic young guys they have.

  5. mazblast - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    How about

    4. England’s squad, collectively and individually, just isn’t as good as they and some of the media have been trying to portray. Perhaps the quality of the BPL, or at least its top teams, is due to their foreign players more than some people are willing to admit.

    • mvktr2 - Jun 20, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      Yea Richard is way off in his assessment, must have been right at deadline or half asleep or some such because generally I like his work. I actually thought this piece was written by an excuse making English member of pst until I looked at the author.

      As I’ve said before the english side is one rung more talented than the usmnt (while being MUCH deeper) but are ultimately about even and often times worse than the usmnt because they don’t play together well and haven’t consistently for a long time. Additionally the EPL is great because of foreign talent, not because of english talent. Ultimately I think their FA needs a good kick in the pants and a coach needs to shake things up by fielding more effective teams which isn’t usually the same thing as the most talented team.

      Look at players around the globe left off of their nat. teams whom are among the most talented players in the pool. Look at what France learned from their 2010 meltdown.

  6. acieu - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:20 PM

    England’s manager sees ” no reason to resign.” I guess an early exit in the World Cup, the only real thing national team competes for is not important.

  7. egb234 - Jun 20, 2014 at 3:24 AM

    A tough group? I was really not expecting that. Italy has two threats. Uruguay has one. CR has a decent looking squad but they aren’t exactly contending for the title. In fact, none of these teams looks like a real contender this year.

    England has a horrible, horrible defense. Neither Baines nor Johnson are strong defenders. Jagielka? Come on. Cahill had a great year in the PL, but he had he-who-shall-not-be-named next to him leading the whole team. When you lack defense and leadership you lose. It’s not rocket science.

  8. talgrath - Jun 20, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    On point 1, it’s actually guaranteed that two champions will be out of this group, instead of the expect one. Costa Rica has 6 points, win lose or draw against England, they advance. Uruguay and Italy have 3 points each, their game is do or die. A win or a tie for Italy means Italy advances on goal differential, Uruguay must win to advance. Italy, Uruguay and England have all won the Cup, so no matter what two champions are going out.

  9. braxtonrob - Jun 20, 2014 at 8:46 PM

    Costa Rica wins AGAIN, and I for one (CONCACAF resident) SAW IT COMING a mile away. Only the Euro-snob faithful believe in these left-field reasonings for their team’s poor results.

    The FACT is, you can have all the ‘skill’ in the world, but if you don’t have SPEED, then you DON’T have the ball, and if you don’t have the ball … it only takes a modicum of skill to finish, (especially when you FINALLY have the comforts of playing in your own hemisphere <- a VERY relevant subject which never gets discussed in these post-game analyses.)

    Costa Rica is going to win this very average group, not because they're lucky, but because they're genuinely better. Period.

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