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18th October 2012

By BEN HOLT

Following another underwhelming international break, this time prolonged due to Polish rain and incompetency, the relief was almost audible on the Twitter-sphere that there would be no more qualifiers till March.

A 5-0 win over little San Marino and a point in Poland is certainly acceptable and puts England top of Group H (albeit having played a game more than nearest rivals Montenegro). But few fans will be satisfied with what they witnessed, and arguably the most entertaining moment of the last 6 days was watching the Italian referee inspecting the Warsaw pitch only to discover that balls don’t roll in puddles.

The World Cup in Brazil promises to be a carnival of football; the ever-improving Brazilians with their unique mixture of flare and force, Argentina’s Messi looking to emulate the great Maradona, reigning champions Spain aiming for an historic double, and maybe a few surprises from Belgium’s golden generation. If England qualify, it’ll be like going to party where no-one really wants you there – “who invited England?!”

Roy Hodgson’s side just aren’t any fun to watch. It was such a negative team selection against Poland; I lost count of the number of times poor old Jermain Defoe chased a long ball he had no chance of winning. The midfield five consisted of Cleverley, Rooney, Carrick, Gerrard and Milner – five very good footballers but where’s the pace? Where’s the craft? The skill? The drive?

Essentially it was a midfield to protect the defence, and aside from Joe Hart’s self-confessed error which led to the goal, it worked fairly well. England nicked a lucky goal, and were heading towards a 0-1 win which would have been a great result. But Kamil Glik headed in the equaliser and Hodgson had to settle for a point – a fair outcome considering the performance.

Bur England fans are clearly frustrated by the style, or lack there of, which makes international football an unwelcome interruption to the Premier League.

It’s quite remarkable that the aforementioned midfield five, consisting of players from the two Manchester clubs and of course Liverpool’s Gerrard, struggled all afternoon to string a few passes together. The system allowed the full backs, two very attack minded players in Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole, to get forward at every opportunity but if the midfield isn’t working, it’s difficult to get them into the game.

Carrick, Gerrard and Rooney were particularly wasteful in possession, and while Cleverley and Milner worked hard, the Poles would’ve been pleased to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench and Adam Johnson never really a genuine option. England could’ve done with their speed, skill and unpredictability.

Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere continued his recovery with a full 90 minutes in a friendly against Chelsea. If Arsenal are missing him, England are pleading with the god of knees and ankles for no more problems. With Wilshere returning, and Hodgson adopting a slightly more ambitious approach, England should be invited to the 2014 party. Whether anyone else wants them there is another matter.

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