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How do you solve a Problem like Euro 2016 Qualification?

England headed to the 2014 World Cup on the back of a decent qualification campaign, and while expectations were at an all-time low, they were at least supposed to put up a fight and spring a surprise or two on Brazilian soil. However, the Three Lions ultimately endured a torrid tournament as they bowed out in a pit of despair after embarrassingly suffering their earliest World Cup exit since 1958.

England’s fate was sealed in just eight days (or five if starting from their first match) into the showcase spectacle after they lost both of their opening two Group D matches, before departing Brazil on the back of a forgettable goalless draw against surprise package Costa Rica.

Below is a breakdown of England’s meek exit from what was otherwise a memorable feast of football, while we also assess the state of the squad ahead of the rapidly approaching Euro 2016 qualification campaign and how things can improve quickly if Roy Hodgson and his men are to regain some face in France in two years’ time.

The Breakdown

The Three Lions showed sparks of electricity in their opening 2-1 defeat to Italy, and could count themselves unlucky for not coming away with a point. Despite the loss supporters were, on the whole, pleased with the performance and thus had high hopes of getting the better of Uruguay.

In their following game, after falling behind to an inevitable Luis Suarez goal, Roy Hodgson’s men battled back to draw level with 15 minutes left on the clock, only to blow it 10 minutes later by alarmingly switching off at the back, which allowed Suarez to bag a brace, and the win. Costa Rica’s shock 1-0 victory over Italy the following day meant England’s early exit was already confirmed by the time they locked horns with Los Ticos, which depressingly ended 0-0.

So, England departed South America with only a pitiful point to their name, which represented their lowest-ever haul in a World Cup group stage, while it was also the first time that they had failed to progress through to the knockout stages since way back since 1958. The Three Lions’ wretched display means they have since plummeted down to 20th in the latest FIFA World Rankings, their lowest standing in a whopping 20 years.

In a nutshell it was ultimately a great shame that England were merely a by-stander at what was otherwise a simply stunning tournament.

The Manager

In the aftermath of virtually any other World Cup the England manager would have been booted out of the exit door, however the FA have continued to back Hodgson, who came under immense scrutiny following his side’s early exit.

Critics slammed his tactical shortcomings, the team’s defensive frailties and also their failure to convert chances. In fairness, prior to the tournament Hodgson was urged by just about everyone to place his faith in the youngsters (it was England’s second youngest World Cup squad ever), which he did to an extent, but in the end it was a lack of experience that ironically hurt England.

On a positive note the preparation and organization was meticulous, and the camp couldn’t have been happier, in stark contrast to the previous World Cup under Fabio Capello. Meanwhile Hodgson’s England arguably employed a more attacking style, with many of the youngsters shining at times, however the consistency, talent and firepower simply wasn’t there…

Hodgson’s contract shoots through until 2016, but the former Fulham boss knows that a slow start to their European Champion qualification campaign could be costly, although he is very unlikely to leave his post unless England fail to qualify, which is unthinkable yet not impossible. Furthermore, it is painful that there are no obvious candidates to succeed him.

The Players

While Hodgson has to take a lot of the blame, his players can hardly been excused from the savage spotlight. Skipper Steven Gerrard and “star man” Wayne Rooney were dispiritingly below par. Gerrard did everything right off the pitch, but couldn’t produce the goods on it, with a long, hard season at Liverpool (which ultimately ended in heartbreak) likely to have zapped his energy. The 36-year-old has since announced his international retirement, and he leaves a big gap in his wake.

Rooney, as always, was under immense pressure, but did manage to grab his first World Cup goal and assist. However, he frustratingly failed to stamp his authority in any of the three games, and is now likely to have only one more chance to make an impact at the World Cup.

England’s defensive shortcomings were painfully exposed. On both occasions England equalised (against Italy and Uruguay) they failed to make the most of the momentum, and were made to pay for this as they were subsequently torn apart at the back. Glen Johnson struggled, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka were far from their best, while Gary Cahill sorely missed the presence of Chelsea teammate John Terry. Elsewhere Goalkeeper Joe Hart was on the most part a bystander, and only made one save in the two games in which he played.

At times England were exciting and dynamic going forward but they frequently ran out of ideas, with composure in front of goal a major problem. The Three Lions have now only scored five goals in their last two World Cup campaigns, which is less than Germany (seven) scored against Brazil. Furthermore they have failed to score two or more goals since drawing 2-2 with Sweden in 2006.

Euro 2016

Despite their World Cup horror show England will be expected to waltz through a favourable Euro 2016 qualification Group E featuring Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino. The Three Lions are the hot odds-on favourites to qualify as group winners, while the pessimistic amongst you will find odds of 20/1 for England to repeat the agony of 2008 and fail to qualify.

It will be interesting to see what changes Hodgson makes to both his team and his formation. He is likely to continue to bring the youngsters through so they can earn valuable experience, with prominent roles expected for the likes of Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling.

Hodgson also has his work cut out to replace Gerrard, whose retirement has left a gaping hole in midfield, while it also means that England are now without a natural leader. Rooney is the favourite to wear the armband, although he could face competition from the likes of Gary Cahill and Joe Hart. Only time will tell in relation to how England respond to their World Cup heartache, but on the plus side there are an exciting band of youngsters coming through, who in time can hopefully lift the spirits of a deflated nation.

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