So England have made it through the qualifying stages and are off to the finals of the World Cup in Brazil. As a football fan, I cannot help but be chuffed at this prospect. Had England failed, then the whole tournament would have seemed rather like a damp squib to me. The qualifying group has been at times painful to watch. There is no doubt that players such as Hart, Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard and Cole are world class and that on their day England are a match for anyone. It's just that until last Friday, they really haven't been "on their day" at all. What is more surprising is where the spark seems to have come from. Andros Townsend, a player virtually unknown outside of White Hart Lane until Friday seems to have lit the blue touchpaper that set Englands campaign on fire. Although Rooney was deservedly man of the match tonight, Townsends fearless attitude seemed infectious. His shot that rattled the bar in the first half seemed to be the turning point for England, after an at times shaky start.
It was great that Rooney and Gerrard should score the goals that wrapped up the group. They are both proven big game players and both had outstanding games. I am not a fan of the Gerrard/Lampard midfield pairing and I think it was noticable that with Carrick and Gerrard, England looked far more balanced. I am not a fan of Chris Smalling as England right back, although he had a solid game. I'd like to see Micah Richards given another opportunity once he's fully match fit. I think he gives a manager other options and is also capable of playing as a centre half in an emergency. I was pleased with the contribution of Baines as left back. I believe he is the man to take England forward, even though Ashley Cole is proven at the international level. Baines also brings a wider dimension with his talents at dead ball situations.
In the centre of defence, Jagielka looked solid and assured and worthy of his selection. Up front, Sturridge looked lively, if at times his first touch let him down. I am not so much a fan of Welbeck. He looks a tad lightweight.
Having said all of that, it is one thing to beat Poland, who were out of the tournament anyway, at Wembley. When we get to the finals, we're talking about a different league of player. I can't see England coming close to Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Spain or Portugal. Assuming England get out of the qualifying stage and with a lucky draw and the rub of the green, I could see us scraping into the Semi's although the quarter finals is more realistic. I can't see too many England players who will set the teams mentioned above quaking in their boots. As Steven Gerrard said, England have a good mix of youth and experience and our best hope is if Townsend continues his stellar rise and if another player comes from nowhere to set the tournament alight. However unlikely it may seem, I didn't think I'd be writing a blog mentioning Andros Townsend last Thursday, so who knows. I am firm believer in players of genuine pace. They unsettle opponents and if they are fearless can change games. At international level games can be tight and turn on a single moment of brilliance. I was four when England last won the World Cup. I met Roy Hodgson when I was in Sweden in the early 1980's. At the time he was an unknown (in England) coach. He told me that he thought England were twenty years behind nations such as Holland in their approach to coaching. He said that we were falling steadily further behind in our main rivals. Roy was the first person I had an intelligent conversation about football with. He asked me about my experiences of football coaching at school. I hadn't actually had any and had no appreciation at all of the game. He said this was typical and was the root of the problem.
33 odd years later, those two expats having a conversation are both celebrating in our own different ways. I doubt Roy thought he'd be England manager then. I certainly never thought I'd be writing things which anyone would bother to read about England. Roy is a genuinely decent bloke and I sincerely hope that he proves us all wrong and brings the World Cup home. It is true to say that I've never been more sceptical of our chances, but in truth, is that such a bad thing. I will sleep happily tonight.