Roy Hodgson turns up the heat as England impress against Brazil
By Chris Higham
It isn't often that I get an opportunity to talk favourably about England football teams and their managers. Since the debacle in South Africa in 2010, I have been particularly harsh on first Fabio Capello and since his shambolic departure, his successor Roy Hodgson. However, following England's hugely impressive 2-1 friendly win over Brazil at Wembley last Wednesday, I'm happy to spread around some joy for once.
Let's start with the Brazil game itself which had all the trappings of a possible disastrous outcome since England's heavy defeat in Sweden. Unfortunately these days, England managers always seem to get side-swiped by injury call offs and this match was no exception. Manchester United's Michael Carrick dropped out with a hip injury, and Jermaine Defoe followed closely behind with ankle ligament damage. Carrick has been in top form at Old Trafford this year and Defoe is probably England's most effective striker, barring Wayne Rooney. Both were huge losses.
Nevertheless, Hodgson didn't bat an eyelid and picked, what I thought, was an adventurous line-up. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill started at centre back with Jack Wilshere, Steven Gerrard and Tom Cleverley combining in midfield. Theo Walcott was placed on the right with Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney in the middle. For the most part, this was a strong England starting XI. Roy Hodgson clearly meant business.
What transpired was a highly encouraging 90 minutes that left England with a 2-1 win over their South American nemesis. Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard had dominated in the middle of the park, certainly for the first 45 minutes. The defence also held firm against the likes of Neymar, Ronaldinho and Fabiano. This was not a fortunate win based on luck and good fortune but a huge step forward in establishing some strong confident attitudes about the way England play their football. There were long periods where Brazil struggled to get quality possession.
Personally, I would like to have seen Frank Lampard and James Milner remain on the bench in the second half. I believe that when Lampard is out on the field, England trades possession for goals and that is exactly what happened after the break as Lampard scored his customary goal, and Wilshere slowly dropped off the pace. Sometimes that formation works - sometimes it doesn't. I'm not a fan. Generally though, a much improved England performance that fills me with more optimism than I've had in a while.
The second part my Roy Hodgson love-fest today comes after his press conference where he was badgered again about the possible return of Rio Ferdinand to the England set-up. It wasn't what the man said that impressed me most: it was how he said it. After the question was asked, Hodgson was visibly upset and spoke sternly at length to the media about how he had established players who currently fill those centre back spots and that older players have had their time.
Basically, he shot Ferdinand down in flames, and rightly so. I have always advocated moving forward with new, young talent and blooding them early at senior level so that when we get to major tournaments, we have a competitive group that play together effectively. This was the manager stating that front and centre.
England have many challenges ahead, not least in their quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but last week, for me, has to go down as a huge positive for manager Roy Hodgson and his squad.
Here's hoping for more of the same.