The England captain Steven Gerrard has emphatically rejected his Liverpool team-mate Jamie Carragher's criticism that the national team is so far behind the elite sides that they have no hope at the next World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014.
The remarks were made by Carragher as a pundit on ITV in the aftermath of England's defeat on penalties to Italy last Sunday and were put to Roy Hodgson before he returned with the squad to England from Krakow on Monday. But as the England manager prepared to answer, Gerrard asked if he could tackle the question instead, insisting that the side still has good young players coming through.
"I don't mind answering this," Gerrard said, when the subject of Carragher's remarks was raised. "So should we just not go [to Brazil]? Should we give up? Should we not go to that tournament because of what Jamie said? There are a lot of people out there with different opinions and we can't control what they are saying. What's important is that we as a group know what we are good at, what we need to improve, that we all stick together and come through. That we dust ourselves down and go again and give it our best shot. There is talent out there and that's a matter of fact.
"We've also had a few injuries. We need to get talents like Jack Wilshere back. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will benefit from this experience. Everyone is down at the moment, everyone's sad and there is doom and gloom about but we will keep working and bounce back and we'll put it right."
Gerrard emphasised that too much pressure was habitually placed on Wayne Rooney when England went to tournaments. He hinted that the expectation was a burden on Rooney, compared to Pele by Hodgson, and an obstacle to him performing well.
Gerrard said: "Ever since Wayne has been around and because of his performances at Euro 2004 there is an expectation that he comes to these tournaments and wins them all on his own. I just think that's unfair. When it goes wrong people then point to Wayne and blame him. But the responsibility has to be on the 23 players. It's unfair to say because Wayne didn't play well we haven't won games.
"I've mentioned on many occasions at this level the biggest thing is to play without expectation, without fear, but I think it's only normal that at times Wayne is brought down because of that expectation."
Hodgson himself was guarded about England's long-term future, although he promised that the friendly against Italy on 15 August would be "experimental". He named Ryan Bertrand, the Chelsea left-back, as one uncapped player who would be called up for the squad as well as Adam Johnson, the Manchester City winger, who was on stand-by for the Euro 2012 squad, having also been cut from the provisional World Cup squad four years earlier.
When it came to England's future, Hodgson argued that England could not play the Spanish way because "climatic conditions" prevented the two nation's respective players from developing in the same fashion. "I don't want to emulate [other] nations," Hodgson said. "I want England to be England. You can't say we are now going to play like the Spanish because apart from anything the Spanish grew up in different climatic conditions and have always had very different qualities. Let's not forget that for years and years Spain went to every major tournament and never achieved anything. That's changed but it took them a long while. They always played nice football.
"I don't want to emulate. What I do want to do is continue to improve our play in terms of our organisation and team-work but also make certain we are aware that at international football you have to be a lot more careful before you put the ball at risk, before you take the tempting cross, or tempting long pass."
Hodgson said that whatever changes he made he wanted to maintain the "degree of pragmatism" which English football had always had and its "fighting spirit and doggedness". He was heartened by the interest in the team, with viewing figures that peaked at 23 million for the Italy quarter-final. "They tune in to unfortunately, like ourselves, have their hearts broken," he said. "But it's nice to know they were that interested."