There were a lot words being thrown around as England lost to Italy on penalties. ‘Heart-breaking’ and ‘agony’ were a couple, but I wasn’t overly surprised. It was on the cards. I had my doubts about England getting out of the group and I was thankfully proven wrong about that, but not by much.
Everyone always looks to make sweeping changes after a premature exit from a tournament, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to ship anyone out. Despite his advancing years, Steven Gerrard was England’s best player by far so you’d definitely want him around for the next World Cup. There were plenty of people waiting to bash John Terry if he had a bad tournament, but he also played really well. He got found out for pace a couple of times, but that’s always been the way with him. He was still making tackles, throwing himself in the way to block shots and he was really steady, so I wouldn’t be ushering him out of the squad either.
I’m struggling to think of too many young players banging on the door to get into the squad. I’ve heard great things about Jack Wilshere, but to be honest, I was over in Australia when he started to break through and I haven’t seen much of him. By all accounts, he’s an excellent player so he’ll presumably come into the squad when he’s fit.
The manager has a lot to think about when it comes to his starting XI, but it can’t see the make-up of the squad changing too much. Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll are young, so they’ll be around for the next few years. Ashley Cole is in his thirties now, but his fitness levels are high and he’ll be around for a few years to come.
Leighton Baines is pushing him hard, but Ashley Cole is a great player so you wouldn’t want to get rid of him just yet. Rio Ferdinand won’t be involved in future squads, but you’ve got Gary Cahill to come back and he’s got a lot to offer. I’d expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to feature more and Jordan Henderson will get more game time, but they’re already in the squad, so it’s not exactly wholesale changes.
The one area I would look at before the World Cup qualifiers begin is the formation. You want something that’s going to get the most out of Wayne Rooney. There was some criticism of his performances, but he didn’t go out to play badly and it was purely down to the lay-off he had coming in to the tournament. In hindsight, maybe you wouldn’t have played Rooney, but most people would surely agree that Hodgson was right to bring him. He’s been so good in the Premier League, you have to find a system that uses his skills to the maximum and that is the big challenge before September.
The circumstances of Roy Hodgson’s appointment to the job meant this tournament was always going to be used as a stepping stone for Brazil 2014 and now he has to back that up. Losing on penalties again is a horrible way to go out, but at least we were good enough to take Italy to penalties. Expectations were so low heading into the tournament, that it feels like small success. There’s work to be done, but as we go into the qualifiers, I’m confident will make it to Brazil and then we’ll see if we’ve learned much from this tournament.
There’s nothing genetic or inherent in the English players that makes them bad in penalty shoot-outs. It’s the toss of a coin and freakishly that toss of a coin has gone against us far more often than not. No-one goes out to miss a penalty. It’s not possible to legislate for that. I read about Hodgson getting the players to practice penalties in training, but it’s of limited value. Some players can hold their nerve better than others and it’s not a skill you can teach. It’s something you work on through experience and hopefully the next time England take penalties, these players will feel more comfortable. Practising penalties in training and doing it in the stadium in front of thousands of people are worlds apart and there’s very few opportunities to practise when there’s something massively important riding on it. Hopefully the experience will stand some of the players in good stead in the future.