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Soccer-England failure leaves coach looking back to the future

Reuters

By Mike Collett-White

SAO PAULO, June 20 (Reuters) - England's failure at the first hurdle at the Brazil World Cup leaves manager Roy Hodgson with no choice but to put even more faith than he has in untried, emerging talent.

As the player ratings came in following England's loss to Uruguay in Sao Paulo, it was clear that older team members were judged to have been the main culprits in a defeat that consigned them to an early flight home from Brazil.

True, teenager Raheem Sterling could not repeat his exhilarating display in the 2-1 defeat by Italy five days earlier, and Danny Welbeck, 23, was among the worst-ranked performers at the Corinthians arena.

But alongside him in the hall of shame stood Leighton Baines, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka and Steven Gerrard, whose average age is nearly 31.

While the inquest into England's failures is likely to be long and loud, it is already swinging in favour of a greater emphasis on youth, if only because the blend of younger and older players taking the field in Brazil has failed.

Hodgson has taken risks. He moved the tried-and-tested Wayne Rooney out wide to make way for Sterling in the centre against Italy, and while Rooney did not play well, the team did.

The majority of pundits urged him to put Rooney back in the middle behind striker Daniel Sturridge against Uruguay, and he duly obliged. Rooney played well, scoring his first World Cup goal, but the team did not.

Seeing England struggling to break down a robust Uruguay, Hodgson's substitutions came late in the game.

Exciting Everton midfielder Ross Barkley was introduced in the 64th minute for the largely ineffectual Sterling, and Adam Lallana came on for Welbeck seven minutes later.

Their appearance coincided with an improvement in England's play that culminated in Rooney's goal, raising questions over whether they could have been brought on earlier.

Hodgson's final roll of the dice was bringing on 32-year-old Rickie Lambert three minutes from time.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Few are calling for Hodgson to resign and concede that watching England's two defeats in Brazil was better than following them squeeze into the second round in South Africa four years ago with dour displays under Fabio Capello.

But he is under increasing pressure to push out older players, even the likes of captain Gerrard, 34, who has often excelled for his country.

"If thousands travel half-way round the world and 20 million watch on television back home, England, or English football, cannot keep doing this to its audience," wrote the Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward on Friday.

"(They) will give up once and for all and return to the joys of the club game. The youth revolution, though, must continue. There is no going back."

The manager has a chance to do just that on Tuesday when England face Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte.

England are out after Costa Rica beat Italy to top Group D with six points. Italy and Uruguay will therefore slug it out for the other qualifying place.

Luke Shaw, 18, might come in for Baines at left back and Barkley may start as could the pacey Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is back from injury.

Such a lineup would not be a quick fix for England's woes.

Commentators have expressed concern about the lack of world- class defenders coming through the ranks, particularly after the woeful performance at the back against Uruguay.

And after two narrow defeats, there was an element of misfortune in England's exit, as the head of world soccer, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, said after the Uruguay game.

"I watched the match on television and I think England were unlucky," he told reporters. "England looked like a good team."

Those words will bring little comfort to Hodgson. But he has the blessing of many back home to look to the future, starting in five days' time.

"We must continue with the building process of attacking philosophy - these young players have done well and will get better," tweeted former Manchester United and Everton midfielder Phil Neville. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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