As England’s footballers lick their wounds following their 2-1 defeat to Italy in their first World Cup match, football commentator John Anderson gives us five reasons not to be too downbeat.
The Liverpool teenager became the youngest England player after Michael Own to start a World Cup finals match and, like his predecessor, displayed a marvellous youthful vitality. From the opening seconds when his fizzing shot rippled the wrong side of the net (hands up if, like me, you were off the sofa in mistaken celebration) he was the one player who threatened to twist the blood of the typically resolute and well organised Italians.
The Liverpool teenager became the youngest England player after Michael Owen to start a World Cup finals match and, like his predecessor, displayed a marvellous youthful vitality.
From the opening seconds when his fizzing shot rippled the wrong side of the net (hands up if, like me, you were off the sofa in mistaken celebration) he was the one player who threatened to twist the blood of the typically resolute and well organised Italians.
He combines his pace and trickery on the ball with a mature eye for the right pass, as he displayed with the superb through ball which allowed Wayne Rooney to cross for Daniel Sturridge to net England’s equaliser.
The only minus point in a thrilling individual performance came in stoppage time when, a week after his red card against Ecuador, Sterling picked up the game’s only booking.
Roy Hodgson needs to ensure that natural exuberance doesn’t spill over into costly over commitment.
When the draw was made for Group D it seemed to most observers that England’s second game against Uruguay in Sao Paulo could be the key fixture and that is probably ever truer now.
But the South Americans showed in their shock defeat against Costa Rica that they are an ageing and average side.
Defensively, they look vulnerable both on the ground and in the air with a goalkeeper in Fernando Muslera, who takes as many wrong decisions as right ones.
The central midfield area is stodgy and unimaginative and Diego Forlan seems to be a player who is involved in one tournament too many.
Only Edinson Cavani looks a genuine threat to England on Saturday night’s evidence.
The crucial element will be whether Luis Suarez has a part to play and, if so, how up to the task he truly is, fitness-wise.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez’s reluctance to bring him off the bench after Costa Rica went 2-1 up in the second half suggests the Footballer Of The Year’s knee problem may not be healing as quickly as we have been led to believe.
They will definitely face England without one of their other hugely experienced players after right back Maxi Pereira’s sending off in a match which did nothing to suggest his side are likely to repeat their semi final heroics of four years ago.
It was always going to be tough playing the opening game in a far flung and physically draining venue like Manaus. The players will need to be rested and reinvigorated after a strength sapping slog in oppressive humidity followed by the long flight back to Rio. The bonus now is that the schedule is much kinder. The next destination is Sao Paulo, a mere 210 miles to the south west with a flight time of less than an hour. England then face Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte which is an almost identical distance to the north.
Saturday’s game between Colombia and Greece in the latter venue was played out in manageable conditions of 23C with only 58 per cent humidity. The players will spend more time in their now familiar Rio base camp and less time in the air which should make them fresher when they arrive at games and less exhausted when they leave.
The England coach is sometimes rather unfairly labelled as a cautious and conservative coach, a criticism which is not borne out by his team selections in tournament football. In the Euro 2012 opener against France he gambled successfully on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and was then rewarded with a goal when Andy Carroll was picked for the next game against Sweden. On Saturday young Sterling became the latest to benefit from the faith of his manager. After the game Hodgson described the performance as “undoubtedly the best I have seen us play, as a team, in my time with them.”
Given that glowing appraisal, it is unlikely that he will make wholesale changes to face Uruguay but there could be one big decision to make. Although he set up England’s goal, Wayne Rooney missed a glorious chance to equalise and continued to look a little out of sorts on the left-hand side.
Hodgson is not afraid of putting noses out of joint if he feels the need arises.
Could this be the time to be bold and discard the 39-goal striker? Ross Barkley came on and did well against Italy and there could be a case for playing the direct and dangerous Everton man in the hole behind Sturridge and fielding Sterling out wide, given the Uruguayans’ tendency to act like drunken tightrope walkers every time a half decent ball comes into their box.
Alternatively you leave Sterling where he is and deploy the more naturally suited Adam Lallana to his left. It is a massive call but Hodgson proved by leaving Ashley Cole out of the squad that he is not afraid of putting noses out of joint if he feels the need arises.
Any football coach will subscribe to Napoleon’s maxim that he would rather have a lucky general than a good one. Although the opening battle was lost, England have had a smoother run up to this tournament than two years ago when players dropped like flies ahead of Poland and Ukraine. It is their opponents who have been beset by injury problems with Gianluigi Buffon absent for Italy last night and Suarez doubtful for Uruguay. Superstitions and omens are also very much part of the football framework. The last time England met the Uruguayans in a World Cup match it was a dour 0-0 draw but the first step to glory in 1966 and history tells us that even opening day defeats are not always as crushing as they may seem.
Spain won the trophy in South Africa after losing their first group match against Switzerland and England have also risen from the ashes in the past. In Mexico in 1986 Bobby Robson’s men recovered from defeat by Portugal to reach the quarter finals in which the “Hand Of God” intervened. We also lost on South American soil to Hungary in Chile in 1962 but again recovered to make the final eight when the brilliant Brazilians spearheaded by Garrincha were simply too good. Proof that, although the nation may be hurting at the moment, all is not lost.
John Anderson is commentating on World Cup matches for talkSPORT. Follow him on Twitter @GreatFaceRadio