England slammed for weak friendly showing, but criticism might be premature

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2014-9-8 22:58:03

Club soccer worldwide took a breather for the international game last week but I think I share the sentiments of many fans when I say it seemed like an unwelcome break.

Perhaps it was because the club season only just began or because we just had the World Cup two months ago, but the international friendlies and ­qualifiers were mostly underwhelming.

However, this did not seem to be any ­relief for England's team and players.

Coming after an embarrassing World Cup that saw a first-round exit after two games, England were expecting some fan disappointment and lessened ­expectations to manifest. And disappointment was what it got in a home friendly against Norway on Thursday, both on the field and off. A poor performance by the English team resulted in a 1-0 win that came courtesy of a penalty, played in a half-full Wembley, the smallest home crowd since England's ­national soccer stadium was reopened in 2007.

Yet while there were a few criticisms from the media that may have been ­warranted, one wonders whether it is too soon or effective. The criticism of the performance against Norway particu­larly incensed national team manager Roy Hodgson, though he asked for ­patience and admitted the team might have a long way to improve.

England are breaking in a rather young and inexperienced team. They've just seen the retirement of several longtime stalwarts this year such as ­midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and defender Ashley Cole, each of whom have over 100 caps for the ­national team. That they had a bad World Cup is without question, but there are a lot of younger and promising talents that could mean a better future for the team.

The English press has a fearsome reputation in soccer and sometimes too much pressure, hype and criticism can be damaging to players and coaches. It would be unfortunate if the current young group of players were to face excessive media scrutiny right at the beginning of their era, just for one friendly.

England started their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign on Monday against Switzerland, and are in a relatively easy group. If they manage to mess up qualification, then they would indeed deserve all the criticism from the press and ­public they could possibly get, otherwise ­patience should be applied to the team.

Now, moving on from too much pressure to no pressure, relatively speaking, we look to a much closer team, China.

The Chinese national men's team did well surprisingly, defeating Kuwait 3-1 emphatically with a youthful team in Anshan, Liaoning Province on Thursday. The visitors had actually taken the lead before China came back with three straight goals in the second half.

Yet they will have to keep doing the same when it counts in competitive matches before local fans can get their hopes up. The Asian Cup will be in January so China will not have long to test their prowess on the continental stage.

China will benefit, hopefully, with very low expectations from fans and pundits alike who have been made numb from all the disappointments over the past decade. Similar to England, China feature some young players, albeit with much lower profiles and skills.

Whether there is room for much hope in the near future for China's team, as there is for England, is not so certain.

The author is an editor with the Global Times. hiltonyip@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: Extra Time

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