England Beat Samba Stars but Need to Improve for Brazil 2014 World Cup

Willie Gannon@https://twitter.com/WillieGannonSenior Writer IFebruary 7, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  A minutes silence is observed ahead of the International friendly between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on February 6, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

England may have beaten Brazil for the first time since 1990, but nothing will take away from the fact that they beat the worst Brazilian side since 1978, or that they will need to improve dramatically for the World Cup next year.

Credit where it is due; Roy Hodgson's team can only beat what is put in front of them, and they duly dismissed Brazil after a few nervous moments either side of halftime. Joe Hart's superb double-save from Ronaldinho's penalty and follow-up aside, the Manchester City keeper had a routine evening between the posts.

Much of Brazil's ineptness can be put down to a disciplined England side who recorded their eighth win in 13 games under Hodgson. However, despite A Seleção's complete lack of intelligence, graft and stature in midfield they did manage to expose a very square England midfield and defence on a number of occasions.

England, for their part, will be more than happy with the controlled 2-1 win at Wembley. They will, however, need to improve dramatically if they are to go to the World Cup in 2014 as contenders.

At South Africa in 2010, after a dreadful group stage, England made it to the Round of 16 where they were ripped to pieces by a rampant Germany side. The gulf between the two teams was vast as Germany's 4-2-3-1 fluid formation completely exposed Fabio Capello's straight-lined 4-4-2.

The Three Lions' central midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard was completely overrun by an athletic German team firing on all cylinders. The result was inevitable and left a sour taste as England exited the World Cup at the second hurdle.

Two years later and England made it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 only to repeat the same mistakes again.

Under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson, the straight-line approach of 4-4-2 was jettisoned in favour of a defensive 4-5-1 as they laboured through the competition.

Eventually they were outdone by Italy in the last-eight. The Three Lions conceded a whopping 35 shots during the defeat on penalties and commanded just 36 percent of ball possession.

England's possession rate against Italy is telling because it was the third-lowest rate of the entire tournament behind Greece and Ireland, who were widely accepted as the two worst footballing teams in the competition.

To compound Italy's domination over England, Joe Hart, their goalkeeper, had more touches of the ball than any other English player during the match.

In the first six matches of the Roy Hodgson reign as England manager they played with negative possession despite not setting their stall out to play that way, unlike the Irish and the Greeks at Euro 2012.

England's possession statistics for the following six matches improved dramatically. Taking their amazing 82 percent possession against San Marino to one side, their possession rate rose to 58 percent on average, a rise of almost 10 percent—although much of that was down to the poor opposition.

Against a dreadful Brazil side, England's possession rate dropped below 50 percent for the first time since the defeat to Italy at Euro 2012.

This shows a direct correlation to technical teams going on to dominate possession against England.

Most worrying, though, was the number of shots on goal Brazil were able to create despite the pretence that England were comfortable. The visitors managed 20 shots to England's 18, with 15 on target

The main reason that England concede so many chances and play with negative possession against technical teams is not down to being technically inferior. It is down to the lack of pace across midfield and central defence and the inability to close the opposition down quickly as they move the ball.

To combat this, Roy Hodgson needs to introduce not only better players to his team but to introduce power and pace into his team.

This is obviously easier said than done, but the first place to start is with the spine of the team. Central defence and central midfield are worryingly one-paced regardless of the qualities of Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard.

If these two inspirational players are to lead England at Brazil 2014 they will need a mobile partner in midfield. At present, Tom Cleverley is simply not up to the task. He may grow into the role through the fact that there seems to be no one else to challenge him bar Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That will only happen if Arsene Wenger drops the playmaker deeper into midfield at Arsenal.

To succeed at the World Cup in 2014 England need to move away from the straight-line predictability of Hodgson's preferred formations. Modern football starts with the goalkeeper and full-backs who vary their play across the back, into centre midfield and up the line. 

To explain it, further imagine the player on the ball is at the base of a diamond. At each point on the diamond there should be a teammate who is a passing option. The wide players offer width while the furthest player away offers penetration. 

This simple movement off the ball is one of the reasons why passing teams are so successful over direct teams who go for penetration first.

Traditionally in England the full-backs' first port of call is the midfielder on the same flank. This immediately gives the opposition the time to set up as they can predict the out-ball almost every time. Like a game of chess, these tactics and on-field set plays need to be varied.

For England and Hodgson that may mean the jettisoning on players like Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, Gareth Barry, Glen Johnson and even John Terry.

Changing the style of play that has been ingrained in English football culture over the next 14 months is not an option; being clever with it is. 

To change the team, Hodgson will heavily rely on the likes of Micah Richards, Steven Caulker, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Kyle Walker, Kieran Gibbs and the aforementioned Oxlade-Chamberlain to continue their improvement.

They may not be the best young players England has ever produced, but one thing that links them all is their high mobility combined with excellent technical abilities and high mental acuity.

Until England can produce a team that can dominate possession, they will do little on the world stage.

Roy Hodgson knows that and won't get carried away by a first win over Brazil in 23 years.

Statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com, www.whoscored.com, www.uefa.com

You can follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon


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