If this week’s friendlies were as important as Roy Hodgson implied, the England manager should be concerned about his team’s opening performance. While his squad isn’t the first team to have trouble breaking down Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland, the broader strokes hint the Three Lions should have done better. It will be difficult for any England fan to feel too good about their side’s 1-1 at Wembley on Wednesday.
Hodgson had described the Ireland game, as well as this weekend’s friendly in Brazil, as “crucial” for his team ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualifying, a goal that creates a good news, bad news situation for the England boss. His team, which has experienced relative success since he took over for Fabio Capello, looked no worse than they have in other, similarly low-stakes affair. The look, however, hints at a lack of progress for a team that perpetually carries unreasonably high expectations.
Ireland opened the scoring in the 13th minute through a Shane Long header. Ten minutes later, Frank Lampard scored the last goal of a match that played out on relatively even footing.
Despite worries of potential tensions for an Ireland match in London, the crowd was reported to have stayed at relative ease. Unfortunately for Hodgson, his team did, too.
There was some late life some Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, arguably England’s most dangerous man on the day, but with Wayne Rooney playing behind (the to-be-injured) Daniel Sturridge in attack, England had little to break through a predictably stingy Irish defense.
All of which highlights the precarious position England hold with Rooney, one that they carried into last summer’s European Championships. Then, a suspension that kept the Manchester United star out of the tournament’s first two games had fans sanguine about the Three Lions’ chances in Ukraine. But with typical Hodgsonian pragmatism, the team was able to get early results, eventually advancing out of their group before being eliminated on penalty kicks by Italy.
As Wednesday hints, England are still very much in the same state as they were a year ago. Flashes of sprayed distribution from Michael Carrick hint the team may have another character, but the side remains able to compete, unable to excel while waiting for Rooney to be something he’s not (or, is no longer).
Immediately after the match, England boarded a plane to Brazil, where they’ll play the Selecao this weekend. As Henry Winter put it, there was “little new learned” for Hodgson before he left. England continue to be dependable, stable, yet completely lacking the creativity needed to meaningfully ascend up the world soccer hierarchy.
Though in fairness, that’s a sentiment that’s been true for most of our lifetimes. It may be wishful thinking to expect change any time soon.