Can England Get Back on Track in the World Cup?
Before the tournament started, England had an 84.51% chance of advancing out of the Group Stage. Those odds now sit at 57.44%. A loss in the opening game is to blame for the precipitous 30% drop, and the question now becomes how the English national team can turn it around. Let’s see what someone else had to say about team England:
The decline in the fortunes of the English team is, in my view, primarily caused by a refusal to adapt to the tactics of the modern era. Before World War II, the English team overwhelmed its opponents with speed, power and condition. But as defenses massed, the English quick-breaking style lost much of its effectiveness; as most of Europe went over to professional soccer, the advantage of superior conditioning eroded. Yet England refused to adapt its tactical plan to the passing game needed to break open the modern defense.
Those are wise words and certainly sum up the problems that England have historically faced over the years, a refusal to adapt to newer tactics. They were actually written in 1986 by Henry Kissinger. 1986! For some context, the most popular song of 1986 was That’s What Friends Are For. (*Takes a moment to remember the end of every Bar Mitzvah I attended.*) That was a long time ago, though, and they held true for years. It would be very easy to see another English loss and assume the same problems. But that isn't necessarily the case this time, and Roy Hodgson has to avoid thinking that if he wants to make any noise in this World Cup.
Seriously though, can we take one second to discuss how amazing Andrea Pirlo was against England? He flat out embarrassed that English midfield. And if you haven’t seen his free kick that hit the crossbar, do yourself a favor and Google it right now. I’ll wait. Amazing, right? Let’s continue.
The next game for England is significant - a showdown against Uruguay on Thursday. A problem for England is that Uruguay lost its opening match as well, leaving them desperate and making this game a must win for each team. Our game simulator forecasts England to win 1.47 to 1.16, and England has a 45% chance to win this game, compared to an almost 24% chance for Uruguay.
For England to advance, Hodgson needs to stay true to his new ‘tactics’, with the major exception being moving Wayne Rooney into the middle. Against Italy, Rooney was played on the left-hand side. While it did lead to a sublime cross and goal, it's very much a case of a square peg in a round hole. We have talked about Rooney’s previous failures before. It’s hard enough to succeed at this level, but it doesn’t help if your manager plays you out of position. To be fair, Hodgson has already hinted that Rooney might be moved to the center. "We want him in the area more. We want Wayne in the box and there's no question we will get him in the box.” It’s the correct move.
Another good move would be to stay quiet and let his team’s play do the talking. Whoops, too late for that one.
While speaking of uber-talented Luis Suarez and whether he is ‘world-class’, Hodgson had this to say: “I think he will only be at that level when he shows it on this particular stage. You can be a great player in your league, but for the world to recognize you are one of the all-time greats you have got to do it at the World Cup.”
Perhaps Suarez hasn’t done it at the World Cup, but he has thrived on proving his critics wrong. A motivated Suraez is bad news for every English fan sitting in a pub in London. (Sidenote: Apparently these hot sports takes about ‘world-class’ and ‘elite’ are not only confined to quarterbacks named Eli and Flacco.)
The second game of the Group Stage is always a good one, and this game is a good example of why. Both teams are coming off losses and desperate to win. A draw might not be enough. Can England withstand a Suarez onslaught? That might depend on their ability to remain stubborn, and not alter the new strategy they tried to use against Italy. Kissinger referred to their inability to adapt to new tactics, leading to their demise. Well, they finally did it. Don’t let a loss scare you into going back to the old, ineffective ways. Stick with the young guns, move Rooney back to center, and watch an English victory on Thursday.