1) Spain’s world cup form doesn’t seem to be a ‘blip’ For years Spain have always fallen short of the expectation placed upon them on the international platform, however the dominance Spain has shown over the world of football since 2008 has been nothing short of phenomenal. To win back to back to back international tournaments is unthinkable! But at the recent World Cup in Brazil, they looked lethargic and like they expected the trophy to be handed to them this time around. Was the World Cup a blip in an otherwise faultless seven years for Spain? Or was it an indication of Spain’s demise. After all, everything good must come to an end right? Sorry, I’ll try to keep it light! Well judging from their struggle to beat Ukraine at home last week and lacklustre 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands, it would look like the latter is the more likely. But personally, I’m not ready to write off the defending European champions…Not yet! There’s no doubt that they’ve made the most of their ‘golden generation’, which is more than can be said for the Ivory Coast and that other team that has wasted world-class talent year after year. What are they called?! Oh that’s the one…England! Which brings me to the second lesson we’ve learnt.
2) England are finally starting to look like the side we all hoped they would for years. Tournament after tournament, we have sat with friends and family and cheered our hearts out for our country, just to be left broken-hearted with our head in our hands, looking for someone to blame (usually that damn referee!). But finally there looks to be light at the end of this torrid tunnel! Well there’s a glimmer at least. Okay! Just a twinkle, but never the less, it’s hope! England’s recent qualifier against Lithuania (one of the best sides in the World some say…well, not many people say that but I’m sure there must be one or two!) was the first ‘competitive’ match where we’ve seen England pass the ball swiftly in triangles through the midfield and into the forwards feet. As oppose seeing Phil Jones pass the ball to Cahill and then back to Hart for 70% of the game as we usually do. It was refreshing and lively. Lithuania couldn’t handle it. Admittedly we have had similar score lines in the past but in my opinion they have flattered us. More often than not it was a controversial penalty to put us ahead which forced our opponents to open up. Whereas this display from England was a performance that truly warrants credit. Especially for the boxing Ogre himself, Wayne Rooney who had his best game in an England shirt for me, (and I didn’t expect to hear myself say that anytime soon!) The Italy game was a bigger test for the side and unfortunately England looked incredibly disjointed with too many players being inexperienced or not match fit. But when good ol’ Roy brought on Michael Carrick, the whole tempo of the game changed and he allowed England to go and play with freedom. The introduction of Barkley and Townsend gave us more forward runs which stretched Italy and if the game had to run for another 30 minutes (which it would in a tournament), I’d have put my money on England to qualify (although not on penalties obviously. We all know what happens there!).
3) Hurri-KANE’s are lethal! Harry Kane came off the bench against Lithuania to make his childhood dream (okay, maybe his dream might have been against Germany or Brazil and it was a last-minute winner in a World Cup Final rather than an icing on the cake sort of goal, but never the less, it’s a step in the right direction) become a reality and scored within 80 seconds of being on the infamous Wembley turf (even in his dreams I bet he didn’t score that quickly!). Now whilst I think we’re all agreed that we need to be careful not to jump the gun and expect too much of Harry Kane, it is difficult not to get excited at England’s attacking options for the future. Having said that, my optimism firmly locked away guarded by years of shattered dreams and false hopes until at least a few more seasons of impressive goal scoring. After all, remember David Bentley? No? It’s okay, nobody does!
4) Players are finally being picked out of form rather than the club they play for. How many times in recent years have you sat down at a pub waiting for the match to start with your friends, and as they’re announcing the line ups, Cleverly pops up and the everyone in the pub simultaneously says to their friends ‘why is he playing?!’ (Sorry Tom). For years this has been going on. Players have been picked to play for their country purely because of the club they play for rather than any form that they have shown during the season. Cleverly is only an example but there are a number of England players in previous seasons that we could have used. This problem seems to be diminishing though, highlighted by Fabian Delph making the first team after a strong season with Aston Villa. And whilst Welbeck’s form has been somewhat ‘hit and miss’ (mostly miss) with Arsenal, he is the top goal scorer for the European Qualifiers for any club at the moment, so he certainly warranted his place on the pitch.
5) What’s all this about the England Youth scheme being weak? England’s U21’s were trailing (rather familiarly) to Germany U21’s 2-1 in the 80th minute, yet (completely unfamiliar) emerged victorious after two goals in the last 10 minutes. Which begs the question, why is the media so insistent that our youth system is failing drastically and radical measures need to be taken in order to get anywhere near the Germans level? The victory over the Germans marks the 12th win in 13 for the England U21’s…Doesn’t sound too much like a failure to me? And on top of anything else, prior to the most recent world cup the German first team hasn’t won anything since 1996. So they’ve hardly dominated Europe to the extent where we need an overhaul of the system that has produced some of the world’s best players for years. Now I know a big argument is that there are more and more foreign players coming to our leagues, taking up spots in the first team for English youngsters. But since when has competition being a bad thing? Our youngsters should be being pushed to compete against foreign talent to take their game to the next level. Why has it all of a sudden become acceptable to just make the excuse that there are ‘too many foreign players’? After all, what’s stopping our youngsters from going abroad to experience first team football and improve in the that foreign players do? However let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say the young English talent isn’t getting a fair chance in the first team like previous generations have. We’ll have no more Shearers, Linekers, Waddles, Lampards, Gerrards, some of the best players to ever grace a football pitch! But can someone remind me when any of those players achieved anything for England? Not so much as a final amongst the lot of them (although I agree a few came close!). So maybe the problem isn’t in the youth system but elsewhere. I’ll leave you budding Jamie Redknapp-esque football pundits to decipher that one!
6) GBNLT – Gareth Bale Needs Love Too! I’m sure Gareth Bale welcome the International break with open arms after months of (some say unfair) abuse and criticism from his own Real Madrid fans. The stats don’t lie and they show that since Bale has been jeered, his shot per minute ratio has plummeted from a shot every 22 minutes to an attempt every 45 minutes! Bale was loved at Tottenham and he played fantastically, but you get the feeling the Madridsta’s just don’t know what a player they have in their hands! If they loved and supported him, who knows what he could achieve with the club? If the stats weren’t enough, you could see in Bale’s performance against Israel that he was playing his heart out. He was all over the pitch for those Welsh fans and his work rate paid off resulting in him scoring two goals (including a great free kick… ‘Can I take one now please Ronaldo?’). Hopefully this can restore Bale’s confidence and spur him on to have a great finish to the season for Real Madrid!
7) The New Resilient Brazil? There’s no doubt about it. One of the greatest World Cup memories of all time is Brazil being demolished 7-1 at the hands of Germany in the Estάdio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte. But under their new old gaffer (Dunga), Brazil look far more solid at the back. It’ll be interesting to see the fans reaction to this as their enhanced defensive capabilities do come at a cost (that cost being some of the attacking flare that the Brazilians’ forged and love so dearly). The question all Brazilian fans need to ask themselves is, ‘would we rather play with flair and wow the World against lesser sides, or would we rather be a structured competitive team with a much higher chance of winning things?’ Either case isn’t the worst in the world, after all, England have been structured and boring for years but haven’t won a thing! The worst of all worlds! I’m a firm believer that there are no mistakes, only lessons to be learnt. So hopefully for Brazil they can view their embarrassing home defeat to Germany as a lesson. All their flaws have been highlighted so they can begin their journey re-building and overcoming these flaws. And to their credit, it looks as though they’re taking steps in the right direction. However, I for one hope that they manage to keep some of their Brazilian flair and individuality that was the envy of the whole world for so many years.