10 Defining Moments in England's 2014 World Cup Campaign
It's been over a week since Roy Hodgson and his players returned to England after their World Cup ended prematurely.
The Three Lions were eliminated in the group stage of Brazil 2014, departing South America without a win to their name as they recorded their worst-ever showing at a World Cup.
In the immediate aftermath, fans, pundits and players alike were quick to express their disappointment—in some cases anger—that England failed to live up to their billing.
The inquest is well and truly underway, and now that we have had time to reflect, Bleacher Report looks at the defining moments of England's World Cup campaign.
1. Dropping Ashley Cole from the World Cup Squad
Given he played second fiddle to Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea for much of 2013-14, it came as little surprise that Ashley Cole wasn't included in Roy Hodgson's final squad for the World Cup.
It didn't mean his exclusion was welcome, however, with many questioning how England would cope without his experience, especially as Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw had never experienced tournament football before.
Hodgson's decision to omit Cole had more far-reaching implications than the left-back position, however—it set the tone for England's World Cup campaign that saw youth given a chance.
It wasn't Baines who was preferred to Cole, it was 18-year-old Shaw. And throughout the England squad, we saw more youngsters such as Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling given a chance.
England may well have crashed out in the group stage, but giving their youngsters an opportunity was a major positive, and it all started with Cole missing out.
2. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's Knee Injury
Suffering a knee injury in a World Cup warm-up match with Ecuador, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's lack of fitness was a major setback for England.
The 20-year-old remained a part of the squad as he battled back, but eventually missed out on featuring altogether at Brazil 2014.
Were he fit, England would have enjoyed more options in attack, reducing the burden on Raheem Sterling to repeat his encouraging display against Italy in the opening game.
When England lost 2-1 to Uruguay to all but secure their fate, along with defensive mistakes, they eventually ran out of ideas going forward.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain an option on the bench at least, it wouldn't have been the case.
There were other reasons, yet the impact of Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury on England's World Cup cannot be denied.
3. Playing Wayne Rooney out of Position
Aside from the result against Italy, the one negative to come out of the game was Wayne Rooney and the position in which he played.
Featuring on the left side of England's three attacking midfielders, the Manchester United man looked uncomfortable. Despite his assist for Daniel Sturridge's equalizer, he proved largely ineffective.
On the back of the result, Rooney's role in the team came under heavy scrutiny and overshadowed much of the build-up to England's second game against Uruguay.
Not only that, but had Rooney featured in his more natural position through the middle, it would have given England more shape and the overlaps that occurred on the left—where Italy scored their two goals—may not have happened.
It was important England didn't lose their opening game, and had their tactics been slightly different, we may have been discussing them in a whole different light.
4. Mario Balotelli's Goal Straight After Half-Time
There's never a good time to conceded a goal, not least in the immediate aftermath of half-time.
Daniel Sturridge had cancelled out Claudio Marchisio's opener shortly before the interval and there was a hint of Italy appearing rocked, with England in the ascendancy.
The Three Lions were unable to build on that, however, as within five minutes of the restart, they found themselves behind once more when Mario Balotelli headed Italy in front.
It was a major setback and meant England had to build from scratch to claw their way back into the game.
Had they not conceded so early in the half, there's every chance they would have gone on to win the game, changing their World Cup fortunes.
5. Luis Suarez's Return to Fitness
Against Costa Rica, Uruguay were simply awful.
Without their talisman Luis Suarez in attack, they appeared limp, and the Costa Ricans capitalized to beat them 3-1.
It was a different story against England, with Suarez back from injury and ready to punish the Three Lions.
He did just that, scoring both goals as Uruguay won 2-1.
It all but ended England's hopes of qualifying out of the group.
Had Suarez not been fit, England would have beaten Uruguay. The Liverpool striker was the difference, not only scoring those goals, but lifting his teammates and the spirit of his country.
6. Wayne Rooney Hitting the Bar Against Uruguay
In that same game against Uruguay, Wayne Rooney hit the crossbar with a header shortly before Luis Suarez opened the scoring.
It came from a Steven Gerrard free-kick, and as the whole of England was ready to celebrate, Rooney couldn't get over the ball, diverting his header onto the woodwork with the goal gaping.
Had it gone in, the game would have been a different story altogether.
Uruguay were still reeling from their Costa Rica defeat, and falling behind to England may well have seen them implode once more.
England's confidence would have been spiked, but instead, a few inches prevented them from seizing the initiative.
7. Diego Godin Not Seeing Red
Diego Godin had already been booked in the first half for a deliberate handball against England, so he was treading on thin ice for the rest of the game.
It didn't seem to faze the Uruguayan, however, and soon after he appeared to throw an elbow into Daniel Sturridge's throat, knocking the England striker to the ground.
England received a free-kick, but Godin wasn't cautioned. Had he received a second yellow, it would have left Uruguay down to 10 men and severely weakened them defensively.
As it was, it was an incident that went on to impact Italy's World Cup too, with Godin scoring the goal that eliminated the Italians when many felt he should have been suspended on account of picking up a red card against England.
8. Steven Gerrard's Header to Assist Luis Suarez
So much was riding on the Uruguay game after England's defeat to Italy, so it was clear there would be plenty of moments in those 90 minutes that would come to define their World Cup.
Of them all, however, Steven Gerrard's flick on to assist Luis Suarez for his second was the biggest.
Fernando Muslera's hopeful punt forward resulted from a desire to ease the pressure England were putting the Uruguayans under after Wayne Rooney had equalized.
The Three Lions were in the ascendancy and it seemed there would be only one winner, but then tragedy struck.
Had he been in a Liverpool jersey, it would have been an expert flick from Gerrard to set up his club teammate, but it wasn't the Premier League. It was the World Cup, and they were on opposite teams, with Suarez benefiting from some poor defence to capitalize and put England out of the World Cup.
9. Costa Rica's Surprise Defeats of Uruguay and Italy
Hands up if you predicted Costa Rica would beat Uruguay in their opening group game of the World Cup and then repeat that feat by beating Italy?
Nope, we didn't think any of you did.
It was a major shock when Uruguay crashed to their 3-1 defeat, even more so that Costa Rica would go on to win the group after beating Italy 1-0.
Costa Rica's opening victory blew Group D wide open. It was supposed to be about Italy, England and Uruguay fighting it out for the top two spots. Instead, the so-called minnows seized the moment and made the most of it.
Uruguay's loss meant more pressure was heaped on England and Italy to get a result in their opening games, of which the Italians did.
When England lost their second game to Uruguay, not even a victory in their final game against Costa Rica would have seen them through after another surprise win against the Italians.
There was always going to be small room for error, but the form of Costa Rica meant even the slightest hiccup would result in elimination.
10. The Performance of Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw Against Costa Rica
England had hoped to bow out of the World Cup with a victory to their name at least, but could only manage a goalless draw with Costa Rica.
In many ways, the game summed up England's campaign.
There was plenty of endeavor, but the lack of a final product proved England's downfall, with Daniel Sturridge wasting good opportunities on front of goal to put England ahead.
Like the Italy game, though, what we were left with were some positives from the performances of England's youngsters.
This time it was Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley who impressed, each making their full World Cup debuts.
It was a stark reminder that while England's future looks promising, the present is very much going to be painful.
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