World Cup 2014: England Can't Get Carried Away with Positives from Italy Defeat

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

England's Leighton Baines, left, Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana leave the pitch after the group D World Cup soccer match between England and Italy at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Italy won the match 2-1.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

When Roy Hodgson was appointed England manager, he was seen as the safe, conservative choice, the man who wouldn't ruffle any feathers and wouldn't embarrass the nation's team. Harry Redknapp was the choice of the press, the man who would get England playing in an attacking, exciting manner as his Spurs side had largely done.

However, Hodgson has confounded expectations, starting with the squad he selected to take out to Brazil. The merits of the decision can be argued, but a truly conservative manager would not have selected Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw over Ashley Cole or left out a player like Tom Cleverley who he had chosen for large parts of the qualification process.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Team manager Roy Hodgson of England and Gary Neville look on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

This continued with England's first game of the World Cup, the 2-1 defeat to Italy in Manaus on Saturday evening. This was a team with verve, pace and attacking intent characterised by the selection of Raheem Sterling in the central position, where he had excelled for Liverpool, which wouldn't be enough in itself, but Hodgson set his players out to go at their opponents from the start.

Four genuine attackers in Sterling, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck were chosen, showing the sort of mentality that England fans and journalists have demanded for so long.

Even in defeat to Italy, England displayed the sort of intent that has been lacking in major tournaments for years, probably since Euro 1996. The fear of playing for the national team that Fabio Capello spoke of, as quoted by ESPNFC, seemed to be gone, which was at the very least a refreshing change.

It was an approach that captain Steven Gerrard emphasised, as quoted by The Guardian:

We got criticised two years ago for sitting back and being a bit toothless really but I think anyone who watched that game could see we tried to create: we pushed and pushed. We gave it everything we’ve got and were unlucky to get nothing out of it.

Of course, it is almost easy to forget in this wave of refreshed positivity that England lost the game. Obviously it is early in the tournament, so there is no need to panic. But it is almost as if expectations have been lowered to such an extent that as long as England play relatively well in defeat, everyone is quite happy.

Martin Mejia/Associated Press

However, if England don't qualify from this group, particularly after putting in the sort of display they did in Manaus, it will be a failure more disappointing than some of the previous exits in major tournaments.

Defeats to Germany in 2010 and Italy in 2012 were accepted because they were expected, but England showed on Saturday that they comfortably have the quality to progress from the first round and, depending on who they will face in the knockout phase, beyond.

There are still concerns to address, most notably Wayne Rooney (and discussion of his performance and place in the team requires more time and attention than available here) and the middle of defence, which looked panicked whenever Italy attacked with any real gusto, particularly from set pieces, and both full-backs, who were repeatedly troubled and too easily beaten.

The good news is that Hodgson didn't appear to get carried away with the positives of the performance, telling The Guardian:

If you lose the first game you’ve got to win the next two. There’s no way you can drift to qualification. Italy and Costa Rica have got the very best start and we and Uruguay are on the back foot.

We all need time to digest what happened. My gut feeling is that we did some very good things. There were some good individual performances as well. However hard we tried we couldn’t produce the necessary quality. On another occasion one of those shots or crosses would have worked for us.

Hodgson's job before the now-massive game on Thursday against a Uruguay side reeling from its defeat to Costa Rica is to harness the positive elements from Saturday into something more tangible. Luckily for England, there has been enough progress in his time in charge to suggest he can do that.