1. Fear of Failure. We sparkled against Italy with a liberty and fearlessness unknown in England teams. No worries – Gerrard and Lampard’s little speech to the team after that game reminded them how dreadful it would be to go out of the world cup at the group stages. Traditional fear of failure was restored. We started the Uruguay team with newly restored caution and nervousness.
2. Missing Midfield. Gerrard and Henderson were picked to shore up the defence in front of a fluid attack. That backfired spectacularly. Gerrard was responsible for both Uruguay goals. And there was an absence of creativity and movement in the middle of the pitch. I would love to see the stats for England passes in the centre circle. I didnt count any. Only Barkley showed glimpses of any ability to sew up the hole in the middle with some neat little passes. By then it was too late.
3. Psyched out by Suarez. Since the draw we all knew Suarez would be a threat. It must have eaten away at our back four for months. Especially when they played against him in the premiership. So they passed cautiously and defensively in their own half as their self-belief ebbed away. He tormented their minds, out-thought them with his movement, and finished the job with his feet.
4. Dodgy Defending. None of our defenders are world class. With Terry & Cole left behind, we had two average centre-halves and two suspect full backs. And no leadership. And little cohesion. Or movement.
5. The Rooney Regret. He is a figure of frustration. He tries to win the game on his own. When that fails, he fades away. Wayne could never live up to be the superstar we all hoped he would be. And now we blamed him for not delivering on our unreasonable dreams. he is a good player – but his style and temperament simply do not deliver the craft, guile and subtly required to shine at the highest level.
6. International Inability. Great to play the “youngsters”, but how many games had they played against international opposition? Great to play five Liverpool players – but how many had played in the champions league? How many competitive games had some of the team played outside England? or even inside England in the premiership?
7. Punishing Passes. The key ball is the one which cuts through behind the defense into the opponents area, leaving defenders flat footed and looking stupid. Gerrard can spray passes out to the wings which look great, but they don’t create any damage. Hit and hope crosses from Baines on the left were easily defended. Johnson’s pass to Rooney or Rooney’s to Sturridge were killer passes in dangerous areas. Or Cavani’s sublime cross for Suarez’s first goal which left six defenders for dead. Or Gerrard’s incisive header for the second . . .
8. Cultural Caution. England has always relied more on systems and procedures than flair and imagination. It is something to do with the weather. We play the easy ball, rather than risk losing it. We pass rather than dribble. Sterling bucked this trend for 30 minutes until he realised what he was doing wrong and fell back into an line. We preach responsibility and team work. But where is the individual, the rebel, the artist, the Suarez? We used to have them – Tony Curry, Stan Bowles, Matt le Tissier – and we didn’t pick them. So we lost the right to have them.
9. Keeping Calm. England teams have traditionally been poor at defending a lead. And we have been poor in this competition at defending a draw. A draw against either Italy or Uruguay would have put us in a position to progress. We either play too deep, or throw caution to the wind. It was unforgivable to concede the second goals against Italy and Uruguay when we had fought so hard to get level.
9 + 1. Fear of failure (reprise). We have the skill and the energy, the determination and the passion. But we play the cautious pass, the easy ball, backwards rather than forwards. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most”. Or as Jorge Luis Pinto (the manager of the team who beat the two teams who beat us) puts it “the braver the bull the better the bullfight”. In the “group of death” the so-called whipping boys showed how courage laughs victoriously in the cowardly face of caution.