The Three Lions were given a reality check during the latest round of international fixtures as they suffered back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1977COMMENT
By Greg Stobart
Given his assessment of previous England fixtures, few should be surprised with Roy Hodgson’s verdict that Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to Germany was a “harsh defeat” for his side.
The Three Lions manager was keen to point out that there were plenty of positives to take from the performance, but when pressed could only come up with one of note: an impressive display from under-fire goalkeeper Joe Hart.
"He proved I was right about him,” Hodgson said. “I thought Joe played very well. He wasn't snowed under with work because I thought the game was quite even for large periods - but when he had to, he made saves."
He was right on that, at least. Hart’s saves kept the score respectable on a night when England were booed off the pitch for the second time in five days having suffered back-to-back defeats at Wembley for the first time since 1977.
|TOP OF THE MATCH | MARIO GOTZE
|Some moments of real quality from the Bayern Munich forward, not least his lovely cross for Mertesacker's goal. Trickery, dribbling and tactical positioning were all excellent - and was only denied a goal by Hart's superb save.|
|FLOP OF THE MATCH | TOM CLEVERLEY
|The Manchester United midfielder worked hard but was ponderous and ineffective in possession. Replaced by Wilshere in the 64th minute.|
The defeats to Chile and Germany will provide a heavy dose of realism to the few who may have become overexcited by England’s qualification for next summer’s World Cup. Expectations will be lower than ever in Brazil next year if this form continues.
Even the FA’s men in suits have accepted England's limitations since Greg Dyke took over as chairman earlier this year, with the 66-year-old setting up his fabled commission and talking in terms of World Cup glory in 2022.
For all the work to overhaul the youth system, for all the good of St George’s Park or a winter break, the current team will not improve until the man in charge faces up to what everyone can see so clearly.
When an England team fails to register a single shot on target in a home game in front of 90,000 people, Hodgson needs to stop kidding himself.
England achieved qualification from a simple group stage but have failed to convince for 18 months, only reaching the World Cup with two must-win home victories over Montenegro and Poland in October. The last week has served as a reminder of how easy England had it in qualifying.
"I'm not prepared to accept for one minute that two friendly defeats in which I have used a lot of players in two tough games is going to take the shine off what has been a very good year," said Hodgson.
"It has been a great year for the Football Association on their 150th anniversary and it's been a great year for me because we have qualified for the World Cup.
"We have achieved our goal and we have a lot to look forward to. I am looking forward very much to 2014."
He has much to work on in 2014, that’s for sure.
For a start, he needs to sort out a vulnerable defence. Long gone are the days when England boasted an embarrassment of riches in the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ledley King, Jamie Carragher and Sol Campbell.
England badly miss a leader in central defence; a commander, a captain. If Terry comes out of international retirement - and the noise around that one is starting to grow - Hodgson could solve part of the problem but the back four would remain susceptible to movement and pace.
The first choice centre-back partnership of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka were solid enough in qualifying but have looked very shaky against any team with a little speed and quality in the final third.
Hodgson must almost make a decision on the make-up of his midfield. Can he afford to build the team around Jack Wilshere? Does Michael Carrick have a role to play once he returns from injury? Either way, unlike Joachim Low, he is unable to call on a conveyor belt of ball-playing midfielders.
Wide men such as Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can provide penetrative pace on the counter-attack - and you get the sense England won’t be dominating the ball in Brazil - but Hodgson has to work out how to get the best out of them.
Wayne Rooney aside, Daniel Sturridge provides the only realistic, quality option but the question marks are already growing given his recent performances in an England shirt, especially in the Germany defeat when he was selifish and disinterested.
So Hodgson can lament perfectly deserved defeats and build up the non-existent positives as much as he wants. You would hope that, deep down, he knows how much work lies ahead.