Maybe We Won't Look Back In Anger...

It's a tad irritating that media are already trying to trip Roy Hodgson with questions about whether England 'can' win the WC. We 'can', we probably won't, but...

Last Updated: 13/05/14 at 12:02 Post Comment

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Tuning into the QPR v Wigan play-off second leg unthinkingly proved an unexpectedly perfect cure for keeping England hopes in perspective: hours after the Roy Hodgson named his World Cup squad, the two goalkeepers raised shadows of national team calamity. The home team's Rob Green turned all the 2010 optimism to dust with his blunder against the USA in Rustenburg, and Wigan's Scott Carson had his nightmare night at Wembley against Croatia in 2007.

To hammer home the point, Steve McClaren was in the studio, waiting to see who would win through to face his Derby side in the final. Though QPR's 2-1 win means there will be no Wembley reunion with Carson, there was a bonus bad memory in the sight of the drenched Uwe Rosler and Harry Redknapp, suits soaked to the skin without a brolly in sight.

Every England campaign in my lifetime has ended in some level of disappointment: even when the team have overachieved, in 1990, the memories are bittersweet. Some campaigns have been more bitter than others, though. And that matters a lot.

Roy Hodgson gave one of his sharpest replies when asked whether he thought England could win the tournament. It is the classic gotcha question: say no and you will be accused of lowering morale (the broadsheets) or treachery (the tabloids); say yes and all sides will treat it as a prediction to throw back in your face when - as is likely - you fall short.

Hodgson was having none of it, or at least as little as possible. After calling out the question as a loaded one and pointing out that managers around the world would be asked whether their teams could win and only one of them would, he said: "There's no point in going otherwise. But if we're going there to win it, these talented young players have to show their talent and take that stage."

First, it is remarkable that adults who earn their living by writing need to be schooled in the meaning of the word 'can'. Second, too many in football harass the media in order to neuter it but Hodgson was spot on here in how he reacted. Third, his prescribed recipe for victory in Brazil also sets out the requirement if this is to be one of the less bitter campaigns.

If England come back having reached the knock-out stages and some of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Jack Wilshere et al have shone then maybe we will be able to look back on 2014 with some sweetness. Headline writers could do without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making a bigger name for himself but not since Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004 have England really come away from a tournament with the sense that someone has arrived.

Of course, Rooney's subsequent tournament disappointments show the lack of connection between expectations and reality. But you can dream a little.

With Shaw's selection ahead of Ashley Cole the pre-mortems have already been sketched out and the odds are very much that England will not win the World Cup. But the cynical second-guessing of the future before the tournament has even started, before the first injury withdrawal, before the first training session, is another reason why Hodgson's youth-tinged squad deserve a break or three from those outside the press pack and maybe also the footballing gods.

Philip Cornwall

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