The great World Cup infatuation has begun. A swathe of contradictory opinion washes over England, revealing the age-old tension between soaring optimism after a job well done and the evidence preserved in the lost decades post-1966. The old reactionaries are already trying to kill the new sense of enterprise at birth with their hysterical labels, so the introduction of verve and invention via the Andros Townsend catalyst is dismissed as gung-ho football that won't work against the "big" teams.
Are they blind? What doesn't work against the big teams is the subjugation of attacking impulses in order to meet defensive needs. What about inverting the desire to keep the opposition out by recognising the need to put the ball in the net? We have spent too many years watching England labour without the ball against teams who dominate possession and take the game to us. And what a joyless experience that is.
The lesson of Tuesday night against Poland was learned in the stands, where the fans were in thrall to the action and went home happy. Give me that over the grim toil against Italy in the Euros last year when Andrea Pirlo et al passed a willing England into oblivion. The best for which they could hope was a conclusion via the penalty spot, and they couldn't crack that. They never can.
Roy Hodgson was asked in the immediate glow of victory what approach England might take in Brazil. In other words, was this more cavalier style sustainable? I would argue it is necessary. Perhaps sensibly, he shifted the focus on to technical grounds; his concern was to ensure that when England defend they do so properly as a unit and when they attack they do so responsibly, using the example of full-backs needing to resume their station after any advance.
Lee Dixon erred on the side of caution, pointing to the need for England to better protect their centre-halves against teams with bigger guns up front. I would ask Dixon why Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka looked vulnerable against Poland. That would be because a player, typically Robert Lewandowski, was running at them at pace with the ball at his feet.
Ask yourselves what made England so much more potent in the past two games. The introduction of Townsend, perhaps? And why has he made England look like a team that carries a threat? Because he runs at players at pace with the ball at his feet. This need not be gung ho. Poland didn't look gung ho when Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski were tearing at England in the opening 20 minutes. They looked like good players in a half-decent team.
England have not produced a more cohesive and compelling passage of play in many a year at Wembley than they managed in that purple period in the first half. Poland were pulled all over the place by quick, incisive, clever movement which yielded a pin-point cross from Leighton Baines converted by Wayne Rooney.
Hodgson has worked hard to rid the England experience of the adhesive fear that has clung to the shirt. It would be madness to crush this nascent age of enlightenment with the return of caution. No defender, no team in the world is comfortable against pace. England have not had a player of world class able to consistently go past players while appearing to know what he is doing since Paul Gascoigne.
Now we have the flying Townsend. Pressing his case from below is Ravel Morrison, who demonstrated that Gascoigne quality with an individual thrust through the middle for England Under-21s at Ipswich on Tuesday. Tell me you would not want to see him running at the opposition in Brazil. Ross Barkley is another teenager with attitude and quick feet who likes to shoot. Hodgson is never going to throw caution out the door. There will always be a strategic, disciplined quality to his approach but he has somehow introduced some devil and creativity. That, frankly, has been a revelation.
The doubters are out there, laughing at the idea that after beating Montenegro and Poland, England can now expect to compete technically with the usual suspects. Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands are rolled out as mythical beasts beyond the reach of the English sword.
Twaddle. We can compete, but in order to do so we must trust in our ability and believe. The evidence was there on Tuesday that showed what England might do when they dare to risk. They have nothing to fear but fear itself, nothing to lose but the chains of caution that have held us back too long.
Hodgson has done the English game a favour by restoring a sense of occasion and joy. This is sport, after all, something to be enjoyed. Of course winning is the point, but surely England's chances of doing that are enhanced by unleashing the kind of hell that we know we shall face against the "big" teams.Reuse content