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If somebody had said two weeks ago that England would end the their Group D campaign having had the most shots (38), allowed the opposition the fewest attempts (25), dribbled past twice as many opposition players (41) as their rivals and had a pass completion rate of 85%, our only question would have been whether that was enough for first place or we would have to settle for a runners-up spot.
England have, quite bizarrely, recorded the statistics of a team who have started this World Cup with the form of potential semi-finalists, rather than a team who have ended their sorry sojourn with just one point. Which shows you that a) statistics can sometimes be incredibly misleading and b) England really have failed by fine margins.
England are not Spain, the world and European champions who saw their creaking system and players torn apart by Holland and then Chile; they are not Portugal, who have once again been exposed as a one-man band without a tune; they have simply been narrowly beaten twice by teams of very similar strength and then drawn a dead rubber 0-0 after fielding a much-changed side. It's the kind of 'not quite' run that even the greatest teams and the greatest managers will 'suffer' at least once a season. But this is international football and there is no looming run of games where the 'not quite' can quickly become the 'just about'.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this English team in their tactics, their attitude, their desire; they simply lack a little bit of quality and, in this tournament, a little bit of luck. The difference between England finishing top or bottom of that group were a scuffed shot here, a poor refereeing decision there, a failure to track here, a header an inch too high there. I am no more depressed about this England side on the evening of June 24 as I was on the morning of June 14. It still has the same strengths (attacking players who can run at the opposition, the promise of youth, hard-working wide players) and weaknesses (an average defence, a lack of holding midfielders, no truly world-class player to make the difference in close encounters). It is a side good enough to beat most but rarely good enough to beat the best.
It's incredibly lazy to talk about a lack of passion, it's incredibly crass to cite war metaphors, it's incredibly short-sighted to blame the manager, it's incredibly forgetful to blame a foreign influx and it's incredibly boring for the rest of us when club loyalties take over and individual players are cited. The rather dull truth is that England came up narrowly short. Play those games again with the same players and the results may have been different enough to see England through as champions. Play them a third time and we may not score a goal or claim a single point.
There are still a handful of reasons to be cheerful and many reasons to be cheerless about England's future - you'll read plenty about the latter in the coming weeks because of what happened in ten pretty unsurprising days in Brazil, but the former will be forgotten for the same reason.
Yes, the team isn't far from doing ok, but that you know full well Van Gaal, Sir Alex, Mourinho or Simeone for four examples would have done better is the problem. The manager is 'ok' but that's not good enough. We have a good talented collection of players coming through right now. We shouldn't be happy with quarters or semi-finals. Barkely, Wilshere, Ox, Sterling, Walcott, Sturridge, Rooney, Jones, Shaw, Walker, Henderson, Rodwell, even Welbeck, Zaha and Cleverley probably are talented enough to make a good fist of taking on the best. This is an opportunity to form them into a good unit. Every position bar centre back (unless Smalling gets his form back) has hope. It's been quite a while since we had this. We need a good young manager to grow with them, not an 'ok' man.- badwolf