Were expectations met?
Though the public and media were more circumspect than is their wont, few predicted Tuesday's dead-rubber against Group D surprise packages Costa Rica. Roy Hodgson bowed to consensus for the finals by giving young players a chance and being bold; England lacked wise heads and were overrun in midfield. Despite the familiar post-tournament inquest and their earliest FIFA World Cup exit since 1958, there were still green shoots of encouragement. England are showing embryonic signs of a style and a strategy but, for now, are stuck somewhere between optimism and despair.
What the media say
The Times: This was the tournament when England aspired to be more than middle of the road, when Hodgson tried to reinvent himself and his squad as a little racier, a little more eye-catching. The souped-up team was more exciting than what we had grown accustomed to, but look under the bonnet and, beyond the figurative rear spoiler and twin exhausts, it was still a mid-range saloon.
The Independent: In his defence, Hodgson has introduced a new group of players to international football and his squad and subsequent team selections have not encountered much opposition.
What they say
Steven Gerrard: "The last couple of days have been grim. It hurts.
It's killing me not to have any positives to speak about."
Roy Hodgson: "We obviously had really big hopes we were going to make the nation proud by going far in the tournament and we haven't done that, so any words on any other subjects are pretty empty at the moment."
Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool FC forward had never featured in a competitive international before the opening defeat by Italy. However, his star was so ascendant going into the tournament that not only did he start, he was handed a central role that meant Wayne Rooney was pushed to the left. Rooney, for his part, finally opened his World Cup account – against Uruguay – and generally showed enough to silence those calling for him to be dropped. Still only 28, he is closing on Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time England scoring record.
Room for improvement
Defence remains a concern – Gary Cahill has been exemplary alongside John Terry for Chelsea FC but some believe him to be out of his depth at international level. Phil Jagielka, 31, could be the past, but what is the future? Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – supposedly England and Manchester United FC's centre-backs for the next decade – are yet to convince. Hodgson must also develop a more flexible tactical plan that allows him to field three central midfielders when the fixture requires.
Though Sterling received most attention, England are not lacking in promising youngsters. Ross Barkley, a member of the Young Lions squad that won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in 2010, looks to be a dynamic midfielder that could give England a tempo they so often lack. Jack Wilshere, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should all continue to improve.
Quarter-finalists in 2012, England will have few excuses during UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying and beyond. Their promising fledglings ought to be battle-hardened rather than scarred by experiences in Brazil, while more seasoned players such as Joe Hart and Rooney should give Hodgson's squad the necessary blend to negotiate Group E. They will face Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino, Slovenia and Switzerland.
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