England's failure at this World Cup was clear for all to see. The Three Lions finished bottom of their group with just one point from three games and scored two paltry goals, securing their exit after only a week into the month long competition.
Roy Hodgson's team qualified for the tournament with low expectations, but as the finals neared positive anticipation just began to creep in. England have underachieved with seasoned stars in the past, but with a new-look squad of exciting youngsters there was a glimmer of hope things might have been different this time.
The preparation was said to be world class, with no stone left unturned. Training camps were held in the warm climates of the Algarve and Miami. The players even trained in extra layers to induce sweat and prepare for the humidity that lay ahead of them in Brazil. In the end though, it resulted in failure all the same.
But what are the reasons behind England's poor tournament showings in the last decade? To simply label English players as technically inferior and say that the national team won't be successful so long as this continues to be the case is an all too convenient and lazy excuse.
England don't currently have players on a technical level to rival those of Spain, Germany, Italy or Brazil, but it is a long term issue that will take time to address. In the meantime, failing as spectacularly as they have done for that reason alone can't be acceptable, especially when there are other teams that are also unable boast squads brimming with exceptional talents that outperform England.
No one could reasonably argue that the likes of Costa Rica, Algeria and the USA have players that could rival those in the England squad for talent and ability. Yet these three countries all showed up Hodgson's team with what they achieved at the at the World Cup in Brazil.
The key difference between these three examples and England was an exuberant passion, a never-say-die attitude and the general desire to do well. In other circumstances, England's defeats against Italy and Uruguay might have been forgivable, but Costa Rica showed that by never stopping to run, pressing and generally compensating for their inferiority by making it hard for their opposition to play their own game, it was plainly possible to beat them. England simply didn't show any of that kind of desire against the same opposition and were lacklustre across all three group games.
Costa Rica Proved Pure Effort Goes Far
Not so different than Costa Rica, it was a similar story for both the USA and Algeria, who were both expected to finish bottom of their respective groups. The two teams made up for lesser technical ability with incredible attitudes and the will to run to themselves into the ground. Both sides made it through to the last 16 and took much better opponents to extra time, keeping it a tight contest all the way to the end of 120 minutes. Writing for the New York Times, Jere Longman described the USA's second round performance against Belgium perfectly by labelling it a display of "unyielding grit and doggedness and resilience".
It is hard to pin down exactly why England players looked so disinterested and lifeless by comparison. To solely blame the manager for not being a motivator seems too harsh as the team have had similar issues spanning the reign of a number of coaches.
Another possible cause of the Three Lions' lacking performances is to claim that the players were fatigued after a long domestic season. But this, appropriately, is a 'tired' excuse. The majority of players from every other country have endured the same experiences of the course of a long campaign, yet it does not reflect in the way they play.
England players simply have to want to put their all into every international game and never leave anything out on the pitch. At the moment it looks like many of them, sadly, don't give it their best and it is clear to see in the results.
The main problem holding England back at international level may well be a slight lack in overall technical quality, but it does not have to be the reason that England continue to fail so miserably. The Costa Ricans, Algerians and the Americans have all shown that tireless running, energy and sheer desire to succeed can be more than enough to punch above your weight. With England's existing base of semi-decent players, an extra effort and more drive should see them able to bridge the gap to the very top of world football.
While the long term development of technically able youth talent should remain the long term goal, more energetic performances in the short term would surely see England improve no end very quickly.
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