SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19: England manager Roy Hodgson looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Roy Hodgson’s asked about resigning, but England should keep calm and carry on

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During what’s sure to be a difficult period of soul-searching, I’d like to offer this open letter to my friends in England:

Dear Friends:

You’re already doing it. Just calm down. It’s just not that bad.

Sincerely,

-rf

What’s this all about? Consider these headlines, all based on England head coach Roy Hodgson’s reaction after today’s match against Italy.

  • The Telegraph: Roy Hodgson vows not to quit despite England World Cup defeats by Uruguay and Italy
  • The Daily Mail: Roy Hodgson won’t quit after England lose to Uruguay to stand on verge of World Cup elimination
  • The Independent: ‘I will not resign,’ says Roy Hodgson after 2-1 loss left England on the brink of exit
  • The Guardian: Roy Hodgson insists he will not resign as England manager after defeat

You get the picture. At some point today, after Luis Suárez’s late goal sent England to a second straight 2-1 loss, Hodgson was asked if he would step down. He said “no,” and with good reason.

England is not one of the most talented nations in the world, yet as implied by the question (and reaction after today’s result), expectations are unreasonably high. Regardless of their group’s depth or the performances of transcendent talents like Andrea Pirlo and Luis Suárez, England fans expect their team to get out of the group. Never mind England only gave up six shots on target over 180 minutes, and forget about the transitional state of a team that will be stronger at Euro 2016 than it was in Brazil. England hadn’t been eliminated in a group stage since 1958, until now.

All of which is a very narrow view of the Three Lions. Having only lost two competitive matches since Cesare Prandelli took over four years ago, Italy is a proven commodity, one that again showed their quality on Saturday in Manaus. And while Uruguay struggled in World Cup qualifying, the team is a 2010 World Cup semifinalist and the reigning South American champions, achievements that speak to La Celeste’s quality in major tournaments.

source: AP
After 75 minutes against Uruguay, England was even, 1-1. A second goal from Luis Suárez left the Three Lions without a point after two matches at the 2014 World Cup. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

What about Hodgson’s team suggests England should necessarily overcome these foes? They’re certainly capable of beating either team, but closes losses shouldn’t be surprising, either. How are Hodgson’s results so unreasonable?

That’s not to say Hodgson is beyond scrutiny, because there are a series of small decisions which may have made the difference. Why is this Steven Gerrard guaranteed a spot? Or, seemingly, Danny Welbeck, for that matter? Why was Adam Lallana dropped when it was unclear whether Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling was the player to use wide? And ultimately, why is England probably going home after the opening round?

Ultimately, it all comes down to that last question, one that’s as frustratingly presumptuous as it straight-forward. England can play with Italy, but over a given 90 minutes, a 2-1 loss is a reasonable outcome. Same with Uruguay, especially on a day when Luis Suárez scores on both of his team’s shots on target. If Andrea Barzagli mistimes his lunge, or Joe Hart stays big on Suárez’s late shot, things turn out different. That’s not to say England deserved those results (they don’t), but it highlights the thin margins in Group D.

Ultimately, Hodgson needs to figure out ways for his team to create and prevent chances. His selection influences how those plans play out, but even in that regard, Hodgson has limited options.

So when people see England had five shots on target to Italy’s four, and six shots on target to Uruguay’s two, how can people justify implying he should resign? Hodgson didn’t head the ball off the post in today’s first half, but be did draw up the play that gave Wayne Rooney the opportunity to do so. And while he didn’t create those first half counterattacking chances against Italy, he did select the attackers that put those plays into motion.

Granted, Hodgson could have recognized the limits of his players and put in a different plan. He could have recognized that a player like Rooney was not going to be as efficient as Suárez. Still, in both of his team’s games, Hodgson put his players in a position to win. They just didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

Hodgson played a part in England’s exit, no doubt, but so did Italy. So did Suárez. So did a tough draw, and so did his attacker’s missed chances.

But should Hodgson fall on the sword because of things beyond his control? In England, that becomes the demand, but it’s one that’s built from unreasonable expectations. If England can keep calm and carry on, this team should be fine going forward.

El Clasico: Ramos’ 90th minute equalizer leaves Real, Barca level (video)

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Luis Suarez (2nd L) of FC Barcelona and Sergio Ramos (L) of Real Madrid CF fight for the ball during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou stadium on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid’s six-point table lead over Barcelona remains thanks to Sergio Ramos’ heroics near both goal lines, as La Liga’s leaders came back to draw 1-1 at Camp Nou on Saturday in the first El Clasico of the season.

Luis Suarez gave Barca a second-half lead only to see Ramos claw one back and then save a goal at the death.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

It’s no surprise that Ronaldo was lively, and one of his two shots saved by Ter Stegen after a clever dribble inside the 18.

Messi had a moment, too, his free kick dipping around the wall but into the waiting arms of Keylor Navas.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A careful Messi dribble ended with a lofted ball that Luis Suarez chose to trap rather than volley, and Real Madrid killed the chance for a corner kick.

Suarez put Barca up off Neymar’s arrow of a free kick, slightly redirecting the tight-angle shot with his head.

Neymar nearly made it 2-0 in the 68th minute, dribbling through Real’s right side before sailing a shot over Navas and the goal.

Andres Iniesta sprung Messi through in the 82nd minute, but the Argentine dragged his shot wide of goal.

The chances came late for Real, with Sergio Ramos heading a corner just over a leaping Ter Stegen… and the bar. Then Jordi Alba cleared Ronaldo’s in-tight header off the line after Marcelo’s terrific cross.

The equalizer came in the 90th minute, as Ramos rose high to head his chance off a diving Ter Stegen and into the goal. Barca answered with a chance of their own, but Ramos cleared the chance off the line.

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West Brom 3-1 Watford: Baggies ruthless against 10-man Hornets

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Jonny Evans of West Bromwich Albion heads to score the opening goal during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Watford at The Hawthorns on December 3, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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  • Evans, Brunt, Phillips score
  • Kabasele got Hornets back in it
  • Pereyra sent off late on 
  • West Brom unbeaten in four

West Brom beat 10-man Watford 3-1 at the Hawthorns on Saturday to continue their good form as Tony Pulis‘ side push towards the top six.

The Baggies went 2-0 up in the first half through Jonny Evans‘ header and then Chris Brunt‘s low free kick found the back of the net. Watford had some hope in the second half as Christian Kabasele made it 2-1 but after Roberto Pereyra was sent off the Hornets’ chances of a comeback were all but over and Matt Phillips scored late on to seal the win.

With the victory West Brom moves on to 20 points and leapfrog Watford in the table, who stay on 18.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Baggies got off to a flying start at home as Brunt’s corner was met with a towering header by Evans at the back post to put them 1-0 up in the 16th minute.

West Brom then sat back for the rest of the first half, with Watford doing most of the pressing but coming up against a stubborn Baggies rearguard.

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Then came the sucker-punch.

Brunt doubled West Brom’s lead before the break as his free kick from 25-yards out took a deflection off Juan Zuniga and hit the back of the net. 2-0 and Watford were in a hole.

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Watford came out fighting in the second half with Troy Deeney meeting a cross from the right but his shot was blocked by Gareth McAuley.

Soon Watford did pull one back as Ben Forster made a great save as McAuley’s header looped towards his own goal and from the resulting corner the ball was slotted home by Kabasele. 2-1. Game on.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford’s quest for an equalizer was hampered late on as Pereyra was sent off for reacting to a challenge by James McClean with plenty of players from both teams getting involved.

And the game was put beyond doubt in the closing stages as Phillips cut in off the right flank and drilled a low left-footed shot home. 3-1.

Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City: Black Cats buzzing, Luck running out for Leicester

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Robert Huth (2nd L) of Leicester City shows his dejection after conceding the own goal during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Black Cats up to 18th
  • Own goal, Defoe the markers
  • Leicester two points clear of drop
  • Okazaki pulls one back

Sunderland looked left for dead; Now the Northeast club’s Premier League survival hopes very much alive.

The Black Cats knocked off Leicester City for a third win in four games, kicking the Foxes firmly into the relegation mix after a 2-1 match at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Jan Kirchhoff hit the header than turned into a Robert Huth own goal, making a much-needed return to the Sunderland side.

Demarai Gray found Shinji Okazaki to make it 2-1 with 12 minutes to play.

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Victor Anichebe is a striker in form, barely missing with an early laser before seeing a sure goal deflected away from goal to set up a fifth minute corner. The hosts were humming at the Stadium of Light.

Anichebe had a shout for a penalty in the 14th minute while Wes Morgan jostled with him in the box, but his cries were unheard and the big man didn’t go down.

Scary before the break, as Marc Albrighton and with Black Cats midfielder Steven Pienaar came together in an inadvertant collission. Pienaar was left the worse for it.

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Islam Slimani didn’t see a seeing-eye pass through the 18 before it struck his shin, and Sunderland dodged an early bullet.

But oh boy. Kirchhoff won a free header by beating Huth to a corner kick, and his effort hit the defender on the way into the goal.

Defoe buttressed the lead with a fine goal, and it was one Sunderland would need following Okazaki’s finish.

Young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford got the job done for the Black Cats down the stretch, and Moyes can puff out his chest for yet another week after a miserable start to the season.

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Stoke City 2-0 Burnley: Hughes’ go top half with win

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Jonathan Walters (2nd L) of Stoke City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Burnley at Bet365 Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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  • Walters lashes home
  • Muniesa nabs first PL goal
  • Clarets sink 14th

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa scored as Stoke City continued to make its early season woes a thing of the past in a 2-0 win over visiting Burnley on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium.

The loss leaves Burnley just three points above the drop zone, while Stoke arrives in the top half with 19 points.

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Burnley had the ball in the early stages, but Bruno Martins Indi provided the first bit of true danger when the Stoke back headed the ball off the woodwork.

Tom Heaton missed the game through injury, but he wouldn’t have made a difference on Walters’ opener. The Stoke man belted a Mame Biram Diouf cross behind Paul Robinson to give the Potters a 20th minute lead.

Muniesa scooped up his first PL goal before halftime when Marko Arnautovic provided good service and the ex-Barca man didn’t mess up his lines.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

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