Can England's Next Crop Grow in the Shadows of the Failed Golden Generation?
England's so-called "Golden Generation" didn't pull up any trees.
In fact, it's pretty easy to suggest they were a crushing disappointment. English nationals went into every major tournament over the span of 10 years expecting a semifinal berth at minimum, yet blow after blow was dealt to the expectant public.
Looking back on the last eight major tournaments, its difficult to believe the Three Lions couldn't make more of an impact considering the talent the squad could boast.
Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, John Terry et al were/are world-class players.
They're all players who have won a UEFA Champions League, a domestic title, a domestic trophy and a host of personal accolades to keep them warm well into retirement.
|Competition||Method of Elimination|
|World Cup 1998||Round of 16, Penalties vs. Argentina|
|Euro 2000||Group Stage|
|World Cup 2002||Quarterfinal vs. Brazil|
|Euro 2004||Quarterfinal, Penalties vs. Portugal|
|World Cup 2006||Quarterfinal, Penalties vs. Portugal|
|Euro 2008||Did Not Qualify|
|World Cup 2010||Round of 16 vs. Germany|
|Euro 2012||Penalties vs. Italy|
So how did they, among others, fail to deliver nothing more than continuous disappointment to the home of football itself?
Penalties have been the bane of England's existence. There's a strong belief in the United Kingdom that the Three Lions will never win a penalty shootout ever again.
The team has also met some pretty formidable opposition in the latter stages of tournaments, but at times they weren't just beaten, they were absolutely destroyed.
Germany's 4-1 win in Bloemfontein—a tournament that marked the coming of age for Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller and Co.—was significant of two nations doing things two very different ways.
Die Mannschaft's recruitment drive in the youth sector lead to an aggressive pursuit of young talent, then Joachim Loew was given license to let them loose in South Africa to see what would happen.
The result was a bronze medal, and a very "off" game from key performers two years later in Warsaw led to defeat in a semifinal once more, this time at the hands of Mario Balotelli.
But that's two semifinals in two years, and two more than England have managed in 16 years.
England, meanwhile, shoved the old guard back into the lineup for that fateful defeat in 2010. Terry, Lampard, Gerrard, Emile Heskey. Add Ashley Cole into the mix while your at it.
Same side, same story.
But Roy Hodgson, post-Euro 2012, is doing things very differently.
He's not subscribing to methods previous—methods that obviously haven't worked—and isn't afraid to make very bold decisions: Throwing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in for a start against France for the Euro 2012 opener was the right move, but Sven Goran Eriksson wouldn't have done it.
He's also largely dispensed with the "reputation before form" criteria that many have picked on in the past.
Hodgson has garnered a young nucleus of players together and placed sporadic experience where it matters. Is Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines the No. 1 choice for left-back? We don't know, and that mystery transmits itself to the fans.
We don't even know what to expect anymore. Beating Brazil was a pleasant surprise, but did anyone notice how, for the first time in a long time, there were no immediate, outlandish proclamations about winning everything in sight?
They didn't "finally click," they didn't "come of age." They simply won a game, and for all the right reasons, people believe it's a building block.
This lack of expectation will serve the Three Lions extremely well in the coming years, and Hodgson's surprising tactical flexibility is another reason to believe good things could come.
Should England reach the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, no fan will go into the tournament expecting to win. In a year's time, this squad will still be an unknown quantity. Let's hope they can go one better than Germany in 2010.
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