Desperation, deja vu as England crash again
As England's beleaguered players flew back to the United Kingdom after another failed World Cup campaign, the now familiar post-tournament narrative was gradually beginning to take shape.
Previous failures have been explained away with convenient scapegoats -- David Beckham's red card against Argentina in 1998; Fabio Capello's strict regime in 2010 -- but in 2014, consensus is still to emerge.
For captain Steven Gerrard, England were betrayed by a lack of composure, flooding forward in pursuit of victory in their decisive second game against Uruguay and paying the price in a 2-1 defeat.
Wayne Rooney said England needed more "nastiness" and former striker Gary Lineker claimed the team had been outnumbered in midfield due to their 4-2-3-1 system, but for manager Roy Hodgson, his players were simply bettered by marginally more accomplished opponents.
"All I can say from our point of view is that we haven't been that fortunate here," he said after England's 0-0 draw with surprise group winners Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.
"I don't think the performances have seen us outplayed or outclassed by our opponents. But we haven't got the results."
The fatal loss to Uruguay in Sao Paulo and the stalemate with Costa Rica were rendered all the more frustrating by the fact that England had shown glimpses of rarely seen attacking brio in their opening game, a 2-1 defeat by Italy in Manaus.
Hodgson's bold decision to blood youngsters such as Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley is one of the reasons why he retains the backing of the Football Association, and Gerrard has heralded his positivity.
"We were criticised two years ago for being too defensive, having no courage or bravery going forward," said the Liverpool midfielder.
"I'm more optimistic as an England player and fan now than I was two years ago. The margins are smaller now."
England's premature exit comes at a time of intense debate about the dwindling number of England-eligible players in the Premier League.
FA chairman Greg Dyke has proposed restricting non-European Union players and creating a new B-team league that would allow England's leading sides to grant promising youngsters playing time, but Hodgson is not certain that it is the right approach.
- Chronic inability -
"You'd run into arguments that would it be the best thing for Raheem Sterling, not playing for Liverpool, to go and play in the English third division or the Conference (fifth tier)?" he said.
"Would that be the best way forward? It's complicated."
Hodgson will soon switch his focus to his side's 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign, which begins with a fixture away to his former team Switzerland on September 8.
While players such as Sterling, Barkley and Luke Shaw should all draw benefit from their experience in Brazil, not all of England's youngsters emerged with reputations enhanced.
The World Cup nonetheless represented a changing of the guard.
Gerrard and Frank Lampard have probably played their last games for their country, while 28-year-old Rooney may never get a better chance to make his mark on a major competition.
A raw squad and a low level of pre-tournament expectation means that Hodgson has largely been spared the media savaging visited on some of his predecessors, but at present there are few other consolations.
Despite preparations that Hodgson described as "excellent" and a squad packed with in-form players from the country's biggest clubs, England were simply not good enough.
Even more worryingly, for Hodgson, Dyke, and everyone else with England's interests close at heart, it is beginning to seem like the country's elite players have a chronic inability -- emotionally and tactically -- to manage the demands of tournament football.
It was not the first time it has happened, and there was precious little to suggest it will be the last.
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