England Qualify For The World Cup

October 16, 2013 in International by Louis Baxter

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I have been anti Roy Hodgson pretty much since he was appointed. It felt like the cowardly appointment, the one made with PR in mind; whereas Redknapp may have made a few purists mad and caused unnecessary headlines but was at the top of his game. Having taken Spurs from stragglers to Champions League contenders, his recent achievements far outstripped Hodgson’s, whose recent CV read doing OK at West Brom and getting Fulham to  a Europa League Final. Less impressive by my count.

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For most of this qualifying campaign I’ve felt vindicated in thinking that Hodgson was the wrong call. From his negative tactics to fondness for picking journeymen, nothing about Hodgson said that he was the guy to lead us to success. But sometimes you’ve just got to hold your hands up and admit you were wrong. I’m not saying I don’t still have doubts about Hodgson as a manager: I do. And I fully expect the positive style of play he went with for these final two games to disappear for the actual tournaments. But against Montenegro and Poland, two games we had to win to qualify in 1st position for the world cup in Brazil, and thus avoiding the play-offs and avoiding sudden death ties against Portugal or France, he played for the win. We played aggressively, even entertainingly, Hodgson rewarded for having the balls to hand Andros Townsend his debut in an extremely high stakes tie against Montenegro.

England’s performance was still a little stiff against a severely depleted Montenegro team, going in at half time 0-0, Townsend looking bright, but the central midfield pairing of Lampard and Gerrard looking without pace or invention. Picking the ageing Lampard over Wilshere or Carrick was a mistake, which Roy duly rectified for the next game, but the decision and the nerve to pick Townsend ended up paying off for Hodgson, as the young Spurs winger provided the cross that lead to Wayne Rooney’s deadlock breaking goal. Townsend went on to score a spectacular goal himself, winning a unanimous man of the match from all watching. The decision was a real gutsy one from Hodgson and what do you know, sometimes taking risks and being aggressive will pay off.

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The second game vs Poland was much better. From the off England were laying siege to Woljech Szcesney’s goal, causing Poland all sorts of problems. The pace and directness of Townsend on the right and the crossing expertise of Leighton Baines on the left was too much for Poland to handle, and in truth England could have gone in at half time three or four up instead of just the one they got, but their domination was enough for me. This was a team that didn’t have that paralysing fear of losing England usually possess, instead theyhad an intense desire to win.

Ashley Cole has been a top player for Chelsea and England, but with Baines England are given another dimension, someone on the wings with world class delivery. Baines is who you pick if you want to win games, Cole is who you pick if you want to draw them. Its no coincidence that Baines created more chances than anyone in the Premier League last season, and it will really be a test of Hodgson’s nerve whether he reverts back to Cole once the Chelsea man is fit. That would be the traditionally Hodgson thing to do, but perhaps after seeing what Baines can add to England’s game here, he might do the right thing and let the Everton man keep his place.

England v Netherlands - International Friendly

There were still a couple of issues. Hodgson is still shoehorning Danny Welbeck into the side, and while Welbeck is clearly a player who possesses a high level of technical ability, his lack of nerve in front of goal is a gaping problem: he added another missed sitter against Poland to his already long list. For an attacking player to keep his place in a high quality international side, he has to have a goal in him. Welbeck got a lot of games for United last season, and perhaps if he hadn’t been so dreadful in front of goal, Moyes wouldn’t have felt he had to keep Rooney against his wishes. I think with Sturridge available, a genuine world class goalscorer, Welbeck should probably be used as an impact player from now on. Or England risk that vital chance at that vital moment going to Welbeck, and him doing what he does best.

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That aside though, this is a well-earned victory for Hodgson. He has silenced his critics, at least for now, and can be seen as an England manager we can be confident in, for perhaps the first time since his appointment. I, and many others I’d imagine, am left eating my words.

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