There ain’t no cure for England’s summertime blues

England 1 Italy 2

There ain’t no cure for England’s summertime blues

From a wealth of hard-earned and sometimes even absurd experience, black humour comes easily to our neighbouring football journalists, although the only freakish thing about this latest of many World Cup reversals for the Three Lions was that the team’s physio was hospitalised with a dislocated ankle having landed on a water bottle while celebrating Daniel Sturridge’s equalising goal.

As Con Houlihan used to say when, uncharacteristically, all other words had failed him: oh dear, dear, dear.

Now back here in Rio at the training base where they’re picking themselves up and preparing to face Uruguay in what will be a battle for survival in Sao Paulo on Thursday, England will naturally take encouragement from the way in which their next opponents were turned over by Costa Rica at the weekend. The sympathetic concern must be, of course, that Roy Hodgson and his boys will see the promise but not the threat — the spirited, enterprising Central Americans are clearly not at these finals just to make up numbers.

Yes, there were encouraging signs for England in Saturday’s performance but, as Ireland found recently at Craven Cottage, this Italian team has a tendency to give anyone a chance or two — the critical thing, as Martin O’Neill will tell you, and tell you again, is you have to take at least one if you’re going to win a game.

England did get the one on Saturday, it’s true, but against the better qualities of Italian football —– such as craft and guile and the ability to see out a game — one wasn’t enough.

In final analysis, this was a night when old heads trumped young shoulders.

Hodgson threw plenty of his tyros into the fray but, when push came to shove, their collective energy and endeavour were no match for the old school wisdom and artistry of Andrea Pirlo, a player whose languid less-is-more approach to the game was perfectly suited to the energy-sapping heat of this rumble in the jungle. Indeed, compared to him, England’s most experienced campaigners — the likes of Rooney and Gerrard — looked positively callow.

Rooney contributed very little of note in a creative or attacking sense on the night, with the notable exception of that beautifully measured cross for the Sturridge goal which cancelled out Claudio Marchisio’s opener for Italy (and, by the way, what about that sensational Pirlo dummy in the build-up to the latter — the best at the finals of the World Cup since Pele warped the mind of Uruguay’s keeper in 1970?).

Nor did Rooney step up to the plate defensively. Leighton Baines might have had a night to forget but, in fairness to the Everton full back, he got precious little assistance from the Manchester United man as the Azzurri repeatedly exposed England’s left side.

Afterwards, Hodgson rejected criticism of Rooney, saying: “We wanted to get Sterling around Pirlo and that meant moving Wayne Rooney. It’s very harsh if people are criticising Rooney’s performance because I thought he played well.”

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he but, unless Rooney can get his mojo back against Uruguay, you suspect the public and media have already found their fall guy for World Cup 2014. Certainly, ‘Wazza’ responded tetchily in the mixed zone after the game when asked if, with the choices Hodgson has at his disposal, he now felt his place in the starting eleven is no longer guaranteed.

“Why do you say that?” he snapped. “Why would I feel my place in the team is guaranteed? I work hard to try and get in the team. I’ve never ever said my place is guaranteed.

“I don’t expect to play, I work hard, I want to play.”

Ultimately, however, England’s failure at the first attempt was not about the deficiencies of any one man but rather confirmation of what many understood to be the case before their tournament kicked off — that Roy Hodgson’s team, for all its promise of youthful flair, is simply a cut below the best in the rest of the world.

They’re the underdogs now, but then they really always were.

“Every game’s a final,” said Rooney, trying to accentuate the positives.

“We lost one final but we’ve still got two finals coming up. Regardless of the result against Italy we’d have had the exact same mentality going into the next one.”

The hacks will just have to keep on taking the tablets but, for poor old England, it’s already looking again like they’re ain’t no cure for their summertime blues.

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