England and the World Cup: low expectations might be a welcome change

Ahead of Friday’s clash against Montenegro, England expected. Those expectations had grown exponentially by the time Roy Hodgson’s men kicked off their final qualifier last night.

Between now and the opening ceremony on June 12, England will expect, as the reasonable, poised attitude that Hodgson displayed after the game last night, will be quickly forgotten by fans and pundits alike.

England, for once, should learn not to expect.

There are different reasons as to why adopting such an approach would be beneficial to both, England fans and players. The first and more obvious is that in football, like in every other course of life, limited expectations can always sprung pleasant surprises, while misplaced optimism normally leads to rude awakenings.

Philosophy alone, however, is not enough to explain why England should travel to Brazil with confidence, but leaving bullish slogans and statements in the departure lounge at Heathrow.

Many questioned whether England would be good enough to overcome Montenegro and Poland, therefore a ticket to Brazil is, in itself, an achievement.

Furthermore, while Hodgson’s decision not to underestimate England’s last two opponents was an astute one, a side worried by the likes of Montenegro and Poland could hardly fly to Brazil hoping to succeed Spain as World Champions.

England did well to keep their heads in the last five days and Hodgson’s bolder approach should be praised, but the Three Lions remain critically short of world class players and, as history shows, that sort of players often prove the difference in a World Cup.

Roy Hodgson’s men have undoubtedly moved on from the “dark ages” into which they were stuck until a few months ago, but they do not possess the same individual talent than many of their opponents.

Brazil and Argentina are a cut above, the former as they’ll spurred one by the home fans – although, the country’s expectations could backfire on Felipe Scolari’s team as it did in 1950 – the latter because of Lionel Messi who, one suspects, will eventually leave his mark on a World Cup.

Holland, Germany and Spain are all technically and physically more gifted than England, who will desperate for Wayne Rooney to translate his form in the qualifying phase onto the biggest stage of them all.

Steven Gerrard, arguably England’s only other world class players alongside Rooney, was his country’s star performer at the last two World Cups, but England’s midfield can’t solely rely on the Liverpool captain.

Jack Wilshere, Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard are excellent players – Wilshere and Lampard, some would argue, are probably fantastic footballers – but none of them, for different reasons, seems to be capable to grab a game by the scruff of its neck.

England, however, should find solace rather than sorrow in lowering their expectations.

In Hodgson they have a manager who seems to know how to get the most out of his players, a luxury England were not afforded under Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, while flying under the radar can often be productive rather than detrimental.

Germany arrived at the 2002 World Cup after negotiating their way through the play-offs and reached the final, while Italy were largely unheralded ahead of the 2006 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships, yet they manage to win the former and finished runners-up in the latter.

A lot can change over the next eight months and a lot will, indeed, change. England will have to contend with injuries, players losing form as well as the far from secondary matter of acclimatising to Brazil’s sweltering heat.

For Roy Hodgson, the hardest task of them all, however, will be to keep a lid on the expectations that derailed England campaigns in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012.

Aim low and this time England might fly higher than expected.

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