The England Insider

We landed back on home soil on Wednesday afternoon, officially bringing to an end our World Cup adventure. It’s painful to know that, back in Brazil, the tournament is still in full flow with the last 16 games still to be played.

It has been a strange one this year, with the two previous winners – Spain and Italy – joining us on the first planes out of Brazil.

I was looking forward to seeing Japan play – I thought they’d make more of their chance this summer – but they went out too, and as their games always followed England’s, I wasn’t able to see any of them. I have no idea if their place at the bottom of Group C with one point is deserved or not.

Chris Smalling and Roy Hodgson applaud the England fans after their game with Costa Rica.

Roy Hodgson and Chris Smalling applaud the England fans after the game with Costa Rica

As an England fan first and foremost, my view is that we were unlucky to finish with similar stats to Japan – though we had a better goal difference – but with just three games to make your mark, it really is a results business.

Being so close to the World Cup, and working every day during our two and a half week stay, I saw bits of some games, but it was only the England matches (and Italy v Costa Rica) that I saw in full.

Looking back, it’s a case of what might have been. In the three games against us, I think Italy were the best side we faced and we were always chasing the game after Claudio Marchisio, and then Mario Ballotelli, had given the Azzurri the lead.

For me, Uruguay and Costa Rica were similar to each other – starting strong and then when they came under pressure were looking for the counter-attacking options. Uruguay’s final attack was the telling one. But I believe our performances deserved more than one point.

Football, as we all know, is not just about preparing well and performing. 

Take, for instance, Uruguay. They have gone through and meet Colombia in Rio on Saturday. How different it could have been – for Italy if not for us – if Diego Godin picked up a second yellow for his cynical foul on Daniel Sturridge with half an hour played in Sao Paulo?

It’s not something we can really answer, but the facts: we’d have played for an hour against ten men and Godin wouldn’t have been able to score the goal that knocked Italy out due to suspension.  

Luis Suarez heads past Joe Hart

Luis Suarez heads Uruguay’s first against England in Sao Paulo

My point is that the game isn’t an exact science. England’s team spirit and confidence was like I’ve never seen before and the platform was set for them to go and play. But there were variables that Roy Hodgson was always uncertain of.

It seems to be a recurring theme for the Three Lions. This was my first World Cup on FA duty, but I’d been to three previous tournaments as a fan and seen us knocked out in agonising fashion on each occasion.

In 1998, we didn’t shine in the group stage but got through to a last 16 game with Argentina. Had Sol Campbell’s second-half header been given (and we’ve seen them given in the Premier League) then we may have won it before the penalty shoot-out that eventually sent us back across the Channel.

Four years later, against 10-man Brazil, an audacious long-range lob from Ronaldinho dipped over the leap of David Seaman and under the bar. That was us done for again.

Then in Germany, another penalty shoot-out against Portugal put us out. I wasn’t in South Africa, but we all saw Frank Lampard’s shot cross the line which would have made it 2-2. At that stage, who knows what could have happened?


I was there as England went out of the 2006 World Cup in Germany against Portugal

The support in Brazil for England was once again tremendous, and the team did their best to engage and interact with them. Roy went to a bar in Miami to meet a group of them, James Milner and Phil Jagielka did similar in Rio

There were also fans around the hotels we stayed at getting autographs and pictures, and our arrival in Belo Horizonte was probably the warmest welcome the team had received with fans gathered waiting. I think those out there really sensed the commitment of the team, and felt their pain when the journey was over.

The Costa Rica game was a strange one to go into as a fan, and it was similar for the players. A year ago I was in Israel with the Under-21s who had suffered a similar fate after two group games. This time, though, you could see the team desperately wanted to go out on a high.

The support inside Estadio Mineirao was great, typically English with its noise and humour (we’re going home, we’re going home…). 

They deserved a result as much as anyone, but in the end we all had to settle for a draw against the group winners. Who’d have thought we’d be the only team to take points from Costa Rica?

Again, though, I thought – on chances and possession – we were good for the win but just couldn’t convert opportunities.

From my four World Cups, the only things that I can really say for certain is that we rarely get the luck (I wasn’t born in 1966 so that doesn’t count, I was in 1986 so that does), and we have amazing fans wherever we go. So they are two things we should always expect.

This summer, the preparation and support of the team was second to none. There truly is no stone left unturned when building up for the World Cup. From acclimatisation, media, administration and fan welfare, everything was spot on.

We simply fell short on that little extra bit of quality on the pitch allowing fortune to play its hand. 

We scored two goals from 39 attempts, while we conceded four from 26 opposition chances. Italy had a higher passing accuracy and more possession than us, but we were convincing winners in those areas against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Daniel Sturridge appeals for a penalty

England missed chances in all of their group games in Brazil

It is the whole football community’s responsibility, particularly The FA, to work on the shortfall. In Brazil, everywhere you look you can see a football pitch of some sort – mostly small-sided pitches. 

In England, the equivalent would be a skateboard ramp, they are everywhere, or the one-ended basketball court which seem to be cropping up in village greens and parks nowadays.

Overall, we have to improve where it counts so those little bits of luck when we play against other nations become irrelevant. Then maybe, if it does go our way, we’ll be in credit.

I’m doing my bit and now I’m home from Brazil I can continue my Saturday morning kids coaching sessions. And there are many more like me up and down the country doing likewise – including over 100 FA Skills Coaches. 

Two U17s European Championship titles in four years gives us hope further up the scale, and when you see players like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw playing regularly in the Premier League it also provides a reason to be cheerful.

We just need more of all the above – so perhaps rather than asking the question ‘why do England always keep getting knocked out of tournaments?’ and looking to point the finger, perhaps the question should be ‘What can I do to help the future of English football?’