I have watched the full 90 minutes of two international football matches over the last 24 hours and it seemed that one set of players were playing a different game than the other. The Ukraine versus England World Cup qualifier could go down as the worst soccer international ever played while some hours later Brazil and Portugal played with pace and skill that was markedly absent from the earlier match.
England can be backed at 25/1 to win next year’s World Cup in Brazil and even that price has factored in patriotic support. At 11/2 not to qualify I wouldn’t be a backer but at 1/10 for them to make it is a price at which I would be a layer. England are now strong favourites to win the group which means beating Montenegro and Poland at Wembley but that requires a shot on goal.
You can back England at 2/9 to win Group H and with two home games to end the qualifying campaign they look worthy favourites but not at that price. It might come down to having to beat Poland at home in the last match. Older readers may remember a similar scenario in 1973 when Alf Ramsay’s job was on the line. England needed to win that match to reach the finals in West Germany the following year but despite having at least 12 shots on target drew the match and Ramsay lost his job.
One of the basic requirements in a football match is for players to use their feet to direct the ball to another man on the field wearing the same coloured shirt, other than the referee. For experienced Premier League players to lack that skill in the biggest international match of the season to date is a sorry state of affairs. If they played like that for their club sides they would be dropped for the next game.
If the first half of the Ukraine match was poor the second half was dire. Without counting during the match I reckon England must have played about 30 passes forward from their own half into dangerous areas and 25 of them went astray. The Ukraine goalkeeper did not have shot to save after Theo Walcott’s effort early in the match.
If England do qualify for the World Cup they would struggle to beat 20 of the other 31 qualifiers. Things could be even worse if England play their group matches in a city near the Equator. The humidity even at night can be stifling so England must play in the north to make any progress. In similar humidity at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea in 2002 England scored six goals but not once in the second half.
Roy Hodgson will no doubt say it was a job well done as a vital point was secured. However, if England play like that in the World Cup, especially against an Asian or South American side at a venue close to the Equator, it could be embarrassing for the national side. There seems to be a basic lack of desire and confidence in the side and the manager must accept some responsibility.
England will only challenge for major honours if the FA are brave and reappoint Glenn Hoddle. He would be the first England manager for many years who was a better footballer than the players under his leadership. Even the modern players will have memories of some of the wonderful goals Hoddle scored in his career. Nobody in the current England squad can pass the ball over 50 yards as well as Hoddle.
At the time of writing no bookmakers are offering odds on the next England manager. Hodgson will almost certainly lose his job after the World Cup, with or without England’s participation. Hoddle now has a consultancy role with the FA and hopefully those members still involved will forgive Hoddle for making unacceptable remarks about some of his Christian beliefs that led them to sack him.
Hoddle is aware that there are not enough players qualified for England playing in the Premier League. Introducing quotas would be against European law but that doesn’t mean the Premier League cannot introduce a rule that says any squad must include a minimum number of players eligible for England. Hoddle has the personality and reputation to broker some such deal between the Premier League and national team.
Greg Dyke, the new FA chairman, believes a realistic target for England is to win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. By then Hodgson will be long gone but Hoddle is still young enough to be doing the job at that time. Jack Wilshere, Kyle Walker and Ross Barkley could still be involved but a revolution will be required in the way the top teams recruit players in order for another three world class England players to emerge over the next nine years.