New model England have a shot in the World Cup lottery
Hodgson's swashbuckling tactics should not come as a surprise, but what next for England?
ENGLAND turned on the style when it mattered to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, playing with previously undiscovered verve and panache to beat Montenegro and Poland. And after all the negativity that surrounded the qualifying campaign, cynicism has once again given way to optimism.
FA chairman Greg Dyke may have said last month that England had no chance of winning the tournament next summer, and that view was backed up by former England boss Glenn Hoddle. But try telling that to an England fan today. England will be in Brazil and if they carry on playing as they did against Poland anything could happen.
"If you want to win the lottery, buy a lottery ticket, and we have our ticket," said England manager Roy Hodgson after the 2-0 win at Wembley.
It's a convenient metaphor, because it was Hodgson's decision to gamble with four forwards in the closing stages of the qualifying campaign that has generated much of the optimism.
The attacking quartet of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and, from out of the blue, Andros Townsend has transformed the way England go about their business. Old-fashioned, dour defensive displays have been replaced with free flowing running football.
And with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilfried Zaha and possibly even Ravel Morrison – according to some armchair selectors – waiting in the wings, there is depth to the Three Lions attacking options.
What's more, with midfielders of the calibre of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and maybe Ross Barkley lying behind them, and bombing wing backs like Leighton Baines in the team, the front four can be swiftly bolstered with reinforcements.
"Other countries will smirk at England's Eureka moment. The six defenders-and-four-attackers principle is enshrined in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has shaped world football for the last few years," wrote Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph before the match against Poland. "If England have embraced the new(ish) religion, it is because they finally found a quartet of players capable of fluent and creative forward play."
Alan Smith, also in the Telegraph notes that Hodgson suddenly has a forward "collection brimming with possibilities". And things look far better than they did ahead of Euro 2012, when Andy Carroll was the spearhead. "This time, the pace and potential is so much more promising".
The change in England's approach has been stunning. "Hodgson has certainly shattered the idea that he is cautious of Croydon. We never had him down as the last man left in the casino, but that is how it felt last night watching the abandon of this England team," says Matt Dickinson of The Times.
But Hodgson's conversion to muscular attacking football should not come as a surprise. "Six months before the illumination of Montenegro, England's manager was already talking about the kind of fast, athletic, hard-running passing football he wanted his team to play, a style based around relentless ball-carrying movement," explains Barney Ronay in The Guardian.
So how far can the Three Lions go? There should be a "genuine sense of achievement" in getting to Brazil, says Ronay. "A non-embarrassing quarter-final exit would be a minor triumph; a semi-final – let us, for a moment, dream – cause for week-long revelry in the streets."
But who cares about the final outcome as long as England perform with the vim they showed at Wembley. "England will travel more in hope than expectation, but we will be gripped once more. As last night reminded us, England can still give us the thrills," notes Dickinson. ·