With only two matches left to play in the World Cup (the
loser's cup 3rd/4th place play-off and final) its hard not to think on the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens especially for countries that does not venture as far as the four semifinalists. England falls into the same category, in fact The Three Lions fail at the first hurdle as they only managed to earn a solitary point and finishes bottom of the group.
It might be odd to see that there is a "winner" in what was ultimately a failed campaign, but different to previous years, this England squad consist of several youngsters and up-and-coming players that can still contribute for the national team in the future. It's not the end of a "golden generation" (a moniker that is both a blessing and a curse) but it could be the start of a new era for England.
Without further ado, let's get on:
Prior to 2014 the 19-year old winger was probably not the first name people would say when naming their England starting XI. With the likes of Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend seen as a better options out wide for Roy Hodgson. Two injuries and three World Cup games later, it is safe to say that Walcott and Townsend will have their works cut out for them if they want to reclaim a place among England's starters.
Sterling was one of the bright sparks in what was a gloomy summer for England fans (though that was somewhat expected) as he provides a combination of pace, trickery, and menacing runs that torments defenders in the tournament. This much was evident in England's first game against Italy, as this dashboard against Italy here can attest. While his performance was subdued in the next two games, its hard to argue that Sterling did not have an excellent individual showing in Brazil.
It should be clear for all to see that England's best striker is Sturridge and there should be no question as to who's supposed to lead the line in the future. While Sturridge only manages to score a goal, it isn't because of a lack of trying with the Liverpool striker attempting 12 shots, the most compared to any England players. What is more problematic is the fact that England only created 32 chances, which puts them in the bottom half among other teams in the tournament (Chile and Algeria are the only two teams that progress past the group stage with less chances created).
There are several things that Sturridge can improve upon, such as in his finishing and positioning, however in his first major tournament, he has shown quite enough to nail down a spot in England's future XI.
Before the start of last season, Shaw only have 25 Premier League games under his belt. A season later, he forces his way into England's World Cup squad, made his World Cup debut, and looks set to displaced two senior left-backs in Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines in England's XI. Shaw's meteoric rise is helped by the fact that Cole barely played for Chelsea, while Baines does not really convince in Brazil. But to Shaw's credit he manages to live up to the hype surrounding him since breaking out of Southampton's academy, showing a composed and energetic performance week-in and week-out in the league. After the World Cup he joined Manchester United and with Patrice Evra set to leave the club, he should be a capable replacement in the left-back slot.
Not bad for someone that used to get lift to training ground.
The Old Guard
With Roy Hodgson opting for a much younger squad compared to recent years, it's understandable that several of the old-timers will have to make way. Ashley Cole was the first casualty, with a lack of playing time, solid display by Leighton Baines, and Luke Shaw's emergence. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard is likely to follow soon. Both midfielders has been around for quite a while, and Hodgson hopes that both continues to answer England's call, but this World Cup should serves as the swan song for both men.
Steven Gerrard is still technically England's skipper and he has not come out and said that he is retiring from national team duty, but its hard to argue whether he can still play a pivotal role in England's future. He will be 36 years old at the next European Championships and 38 when the 2018 World Cup rolls around, and playing in a demanding position will probably take its toll on an aging midfielder, on top of playing week-in and week-out for his club (with Liverpool back in the Champions League, retiring from national team duty might prolong his club career).
The same case applies for Frank Lampard, whose contract was not extended by Chelsea, and is set to join New York City FC, an expansion MLS franchise. Judging by two notable England internationals that made the move across the Atlantic, David Beckham and Jermain Defoe, an England call-up seems unlikely in Lampard's future.
Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines
Jagielka's partnership with Gary Cahill was a mainstay of the World Cup qualifiers and both performed admirably throughout. However, Jagielka suffered a hamstring injury and had to miss quite some time between March and April. That seemed to affect his match sharpness and that was evident in England's 2-1 defeat against Uruguay, in both goals Jagielka could have positioned himself better against the passes leading to both goals. It remains to be seen whether Hodgson will stick to a Cahill - Jagielka partnership, but with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and John Stones lurking around the squad, the omen isn't exactly good for Jagielka.
Baines' tournament was a forgettable one as well, he was hopelessly exposed against Italy (Wayne Rooney providing scant protection) with all of Italy's crosses coming from England's left side. His attacking display also left little to be desired, only managing two crosses in two games and five key passes (which in fairness led the team). Baines must be nervously looking over his shoulder as Shaw looks a real threat for his position.
Hodgson took over from Fabio Capello a month prior to Euro 2012, with such short preparation time he was able to steer the Three Lions past the group stage before ultimately succumbing to Italy on penalties. Now, with more preparation time and a full round of qualifying matches and international friendlies, England finishes bottom of their World Cup group. While there are several variables that may explain England's failure in Brazil (different oppositions between Euro and World Cup, different playing style, different squad members, and the weather among others) ultimately Hodgson must shoulder some, if not most, of the blame. Under him, England did not look to play as a functional side, and after a promising display against Italy, the tactical shift he made against Uruguay nullified England's best attacking player from the previous game, and in the dead rubber against Costa Rica they did not look convincing either.
For now, Hodgson retains the faith of The FA. With the European Championships qualifiers on the horizon, Hodgson and his staff have several homework's that they needed to work on if England are to improve from their display in Brazil.