Fine-tuning

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 7th 2014)

Last Chance

England will take on Honduras this afternoon in the searing heat of Miami’s summer. The match kicks off at 4.45 local time. It will be hot and humid – hopefully similar to conditions in Manaus. “We have to make sure we can play 90 minutes in the heat”,England’s manager Roy Hodgson said.

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That still left the question of why Miami rather than in Brasil itself where conditions would be what England will experience in the World Cup, rather than similar? Hodgson had previously defended the choice of Miami rather than Brasil for the friendlies.

The best known of Honduras’ players are Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa, although the youngest member of the squad Andy Najar plays for Anderlecht. Both teams will be looking to avoid injuries and go to the World Cup equipped to progress. Honduras has never progressed to the second round and nor has Ecuador – they meet in Curitiba on June 20th.

Defensive

Hodgson was defensive of Raheem Sterling, even though the Liverpool winger is banned for this match after his red card against Ecuador. Hodgson belatedly accepted that Sterling’s challenge on Ecuador’s captain Antonio Valencia was reckless and that the American referee was entitled to send Sterling off for it.

The starting line-up will be far closer to the team likely to play in Brasil. A back four of Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will aim to ensure that Joe Hart has little to do. Steven Gerrard and club colleague Jordan Henderson will anchor the midfield. In attack Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge didn’t feature against Ecuador and Adam Lallana may be due a run out too. Wayne Rooney is expected to start as well.

The Promise of Youth

Hodgson faces a difficult decision or two. He clearly rates both Sterling and Everton’s Ross Barkley, but Hodgson has to decide whether this tournament has come too soon for them. He believes that they will be part of England’s future for the next decade. The question is are they part of England’s present?

Sterling has shown the impetuousness of youth, but Hodgson refused to say that Sterling showed a lack of discipline. Instead, Hodgson chose to stress that Sterling was trying to help out the defence with his pace and that he was not worried about discipline.

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After the match against Ecuador Hodgson seemed irritable when Barkley’s performance was singled out for praise, stressing that Barkley had made mistakes giving the ball away – mistakes repeated in training yesterday, along with the skills that had singled him out for praise.

Hodgson was keen to set the record straight. He was determined to protect Barkley as an investment in England’s future. “If I try and protect Ross Barkley I make no apologies about that,’’ Hodgson told journalists at yesterday’s press conference. “I have seen people praised to the skies after a good performance and then brought back down to earth with a massive bump and I don’t want that to happen with Ross or Raheem or Luke [Shaw] because I think they have a lot of England games ahead of them. We are talking 10 to 12 years”.

While Sterling definitely won’t play against Honduras, Barkley may get some playing time – not a bad option as Hodgson will have to make a decision on how he fits into his World Cup plans, or even if he does at all. Captain Steven Gerrard is excited about the young players too.

But while England have a talented group of youngsters coming through they hardly compare to Belgium’s current crop. Thibaut Courtois excelled again for Spanish champions Atlético de Madrid. Eden Hazard has turned the heads of a few top clubs in Europe with his displays for Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku isn’t short of top clubs chasing his signature either and all three are fixtures in Belgium’s first team.

Style

While Hodgson’s focus is rightly on his squad, Ecuador and Honduras were chosen as opponents because Hodgson believed that there is a South American style of football and a Central American one too. Recent opponents in friendlies at Wembley have included Chile and Perú. They have also played Brasil home and away recently too. Interestingly, Honduras are the only Central American opponents England will face within a year of the World Cup.

Perhaps they rue a missed opportunity. The first match Wales played after the tragic death of Gary Speed was against Costa Rica. What price now to have had a friendly against them then? But at least there are videos of Wales’ match against them available for Hodgson and his team to study.

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The coaches of both opponents of England’s pre-World Cup tour of Miami, Ecuador and Honduras are Colombians. Luís Fernando Suárez and Reinaldo Rueda know each other well. Both say there is no specific style of South American football or Central American football, even though England chose these opponents with Uruguay and Costa Rica in mind.

In the end it [comparison] doesn’t really exist”, Rueda said at his pre-match press conference. “These are preparation games and teams are not really the same”. Suárez agrees. “There is no central American style”, he said yesterday. “I respect all the type of football the Hondurans play. It is fast and strong, but there is not a specific style of football in Central America. The Colombian coaches have not changed the way they play – only implemented our tactics. That’s the way we Colombian coaches work – with tactics”.

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In short, Honduras will play a Honduran style based on its culture and philosophy with Colombian tactical acumen. Just how similar that is to Costa Rica remains to be seen.

 

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