England's World Cup campaign finally got under way on Saturday night with a 2-1 defeat against Italy. It wasn't ideal, of course, but the post match positive reaction was somewhat surprising and refreshing. Why were so many England fans chirpy after a potentially damaging defeat, though?
The game against Italy was always going to be a tough one and, looking back at it, a draw probably would've been a fair result. The Italians were clinical though and should be admired for that, but they certainly came under some real pressure from England throughout the game. England's pace, power and composure on the ball, when they managed to win it back, was impressive.
In the past, England sides have been accused of many things, most notably; a lack of pace, creativity, flair and a weakness many feel we're miles behind the rest at - ball retention. Against Italy, though, we seemed to surpass expectations on that front and show some real attacking intent and calmness in possession at times.
With the likes of Welbeck, Sterling and Sturridge we have an injection of pace that England have lacked for a while now. That, added in with the composure of Gerrard and Henderson, means they were regularly picked out, running at the Italians in the process. Chiellini & co looked rattled from the off and were it not for a few missed opportunities (sorry, Wayne!), England could've scored four or five goals.
Roy Hodgson's post match interview was a positive one and, as usual, he conducted himself extremely well. 'Woy', as many people harshly call him, has picked a squad that leaves him with a vast amount of options heading into the next two group games against Uruguay and Costa Rica. He's developed a side that pretty much picks itself, bar maybe one or two, and he's developing a real sense of enthusiasm for the England national side again. Hodgson's a likeable character and deserves more respect than he sometimes tends to get, I feel.
I was walking home through London after the defeat on Saturday night and expected to see thousands of depressed, grumpy England fans roaming the streets with heads in hands. Instead, I witnessed loud singing, smiles and a real sense of optimism. This certainly wouldn't have been the case with previous England teams but the potential with this current side is evident and England, as a nation, are starting to see what Roy Hodgson is trying to create.
Gary Lineker's post match Tweets also provided a bit of food for thought, mainly because it was massively encouraging, with England's stats from the Italy game making for a more than interesting read. According to Lineker, England, at the time, had more shots on goal than any other side in the competition so far and the Three Lions' passing accuracy was ranked second behind the likes of Spain, Holland and Brazil. On top of that, their passing accuracy in the opposition's half was higher than anyone one else's. Who'd have predicted that 2-3 years ago?
Of course we could lose every game and leave Brazil with nothing to show for, but I for one don't think we will. Even if we did, would it really herald such dramatic changes to the England squad? I'd say, without a doubt, no. The potential is there, the team spirit looks good and with it, optimism is growing. Of course there's a few things we need to improve on, but the foundations are in place.
This is an England side many are warming to. With Hodgson at the helm, we're in good hands. I, for one, am looking forward to the future.
By Harry Rents - Grays Athletic fan