Jim White

England may be outsiders under Hodgson, but at least they show some fight

Jim White

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Sven-Goran Eriksson does not reckon England have a hope in this World Cup.

Which probably qualifies as the very definition of stating the bleedin' obvious. Besides, Sven should know about England not having a hope. After all, he managed to squander far more significant resources than Roy Hodgson has at his disposal.

The Swede was in charge of England at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, when he presided over the reverse alchemy of turning the golden generation into straw men. Hodgson may not have a hope, but at least no-one in a month’s time will be lingering over the might have beens and the what-ifs which seemed to be a permanent fixture of Sven’s reign.

This was a manager who turned those with a decent chance into no hopers. Over the next couple of weeks, Hodgson has the possibility of reversing expectation and delivering the most delicious of surprises. All Sven did was disappoint.

In many ways, this is the best we can expect from this England team: that they do better than we thought they might. Which means anything beyond making their way out of the group stage should be considered a laudable achievement, to be acknowledged and praised. Of course they aren’t going to win it. You don’t need Sven to point that out. Not with Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany standing in the way. Not to mention Uruguay and Italy.

Most of all, though, what would be really good to see from Hodgson is that he makes his team play beyond the edge of their capabilities. Since the semi-final in 1990, every England team at World Cups has disappointed, falling below the sum of their parts. In 2002 and 2006 under Sven they meekly surrendered to Brazil and then Portugal when just the merest hint of bulldog spirit might have been enough to see them through. In South Africa in 2010, they simply stank the place out. How great it would be if this time they played at least to their full potential. Of course it won’t be sufficient to see them lift the trophy. But how it would put a spring in the step back home.

That is why it was so depressing to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain limp off the field in Miami on Wednesday night. No-one is suggesting that the Ox is a world class talent. He is not on a level with Messi, Iniesta, Suarez or Xavi. He shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Andrea Pirlo.

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But at least when he pulls on an England shirt he appears determined to give of his best. At least when he gets the ball for England he does not appear cowed and frightened. At least the guy tries. After the Sven and Capello years, in which the best we had shrank at the very sight of a national jersey, it is good to see someone so keen to seize the moment. Under Sven whatever is the opposite of carpe diem seemed to be the governing philosophy.

Unfortunately Chamberlain will now not be available to add his zest, directness and pace to the mix for the first couple of games. But you get the impression players like Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Ricky Lambert share his desire to use the tournament as a platform to better themselves, rather than shrinking under the responsibility as so many of their predecessors did.

Mind, even if they all play like they were knocking around with their mates on the local council rec, it won’t be enough to win the thing. That requires a little more than a carefree sense of release.

But with so little assumption back home about where they might end up, any progress will be celebrated as if the trophy itself had been landed. Do us proud boys, is all the fans ask. You are our representatives out there, it would be great if you just gave us a couple of things to cheer.

If nothing else, how we would be all cheered up if this England of Roy Hodgson’s play as if they are enjoying themselves. Goodness, after the woeful times of Sven and Fabio, that really would make a change.

Follow Jim White on Twitter @jimw1

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