The Road To Rio Is Paved With Potential Banana Skins
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
With Word Cup 2014 qualification underway, today on the Blog Adam Hurrey from Football Cliches takes a look at the path ahead for the English team on the road to Rio.
The collective eye-rolling that greeted the two-week break from domestic matters and the start of World Cup qualifying (or the Road to Rio™, if you must) suggested little appetite for England's fixtures against Moldova and Ukraine. Roy Hodgson's meagre pool of talent, understandably, finds it difficult to snare the imagination of many fans still highly dependent on the unstemmable foreign influx of the top flight.
A winnable group, albeit an unspectacular one featuring traditional qualification bedfellows Poland and Euro 2012 adversaries Ukraine, kicked off for England in Chisinau last Friday.
Moldova v England
Everyone knew the drill here. These journeys into the unknown are getting terribly, erm, known. The Zimbru Stadium, tidy thought it was, inevitably filled its role as a Tricky Place To Go with its pitch coming in for the usual patronising scrutiny. You suspect, however, that even a war-torn minefield would still only provoke an England press conference into describing the playing surface as "not the best".
In such circumstances, the age-old objectives of keeping it tight for the first 20 minutes (a strangely well-established time period, the defining of which no-one can be surely trace) and silencing the partisan crowd were immediately called upon. The latter was swiftly completed, thanks to a third-minute penalty from Frank Lampard after a Tom Cleverley shot met a Moldovan arm in the area.
What followed was the sort of training-ground possession play that confounds those who insist on drawing epic, long-term conclusions from every single England match. Such dominance was unlikely to be repeated against Ukraine at Wembley four days later and, while it yielded three points towards World Cup qualification, this game sent shockwaves around the football globe equivalent to those generated by, say, Everton cruising past Nuneaton in an FA Cup third-round tie.
A warm welcome, for the uninitiated few, to the curious concept of "international level".
England v Ukraine
Ukraine proved threatening enough that there were no blushes spared by Lampard's customary penalty as the clock ticked down, but it certainly papered over the familiar cracks of England's performance on Tuesday night.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain became the latest fast-tracked, jet-heeled youngster to see his promising breakthrough halted by a disciplined, space-squeezing defence. Since he is credited with a football brain, Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to be disheartened - so why must grand conclusions be drawn every time England come up short outside of the pressure-cooker of the major tournaments?
Such knee-jerkism has arguably cost international careers - Matthew Le Tissier, for one, was scapegoated into the international wilderness soon after rudely failing to score one of his goal of the season contenders against Italy at Wembley in 1997. Tom Cleverley's squandered trio of presentable chances has (apparently) undone any good work he may have undertaken in the Chisinau stroll but, for as long as he remains in Manchester United's matchday squads, he qualifies for further bites of the international cherry.
Since the latest unceremonial exit from a major tournament, English football's earnest attempt to combat the culture shock dealt by possession football has gathered pace. However, faced with the moderate panic of being 1-0 down at home to Ukraine, Hodgson's side fell back into the quintessentially English habit of trying to get the ball upfield as quickly and emphatically as possible.
Steven Gerrard, a man who suffers from a rare disorder that requires him to inject some urgency at least once a week (presumably into the scruff of his neck), epitomised England's unenviable haste/speed ratio. His harsh red card means the captain will miss next month's first-half annihilation of San Marino, a selection "dilemma" that warrants absolutely no discussion whatsoever.
The Road Ahead
Defoe completing a deserved first 90 minutes in an England shirt, at the fifty-first time of asking, suggests Hodgson is prepared to be more patient than his predecessors with England's threadbare collection of goalscorers, although the manager's refusal to acknowledge publicly the failings against Ukraine raised a few eyebrows in Wednesday's Wembley post-mortem.
Roy Keane's stony-faced on-air wager with Adrian Chiles that England will qualify comfortably as Group H winners remains good value, even though some awkward-looking trips await to the crumbling, ramshackle cauldrons of Warsaw's National Stadium and the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. Oh, hang on...
Follow Adam on Twitter: @FootballCliches
Read more of Adam's work on his blog Football Cliches
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