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Poland 1 England 1: Match Report

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She will be waiting for Spain, Holland and others from Europe who exude style and substance. But not England. Not after this dog of a game, a mangy mongrel of a match from Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Steven Gerrard and company.

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Roy Hodgson’s side can still qualify for Brazil, and may ultimately reflect that Warsaw was not a watery grave, but yesterday’s performance on a patchy, moist surface was painful to behold. Once again, the ball was treated as a contaminated commodity. Those hardy souls in the away section of the National Stadium, the 600-odd England stoics who had stayed on after Tuesday’s postponement, placing jobs and relationships at risk, deserved better.

Although accepting the charge of profligacy in possession, Hodgson rolled out a few excuses, notably the slow, sodden pitch and the 20-hour delay. Yet that anticlimax and the poverty of the pitch did not seem to disturb the far more sure-footed Poles. Lukasz Piszczek and Robert Lewandowski, among others in white, looked hungrier, sharper and more measured in possession. The scoreline cheated Poland.

It is far too premature and presumptuous to question Hodgson’s right to govern, and England possess sufficient willpower in the likes of Rooney, Hart and Gerrard to escape this curate’s scrambled egg of a group, but the manager’s tactics were far too cautious here. England lacked pace and width, although James Milner bucked the trend of under-achievement with a strong shift down the right. Tom Cleverley is not a left-winger. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s speedy, fluid, threatening movement was missed until late on. Gerrard appeared inhibited by the 4-4-1-1 system, resorting to long passes rather than those buccaneering runs that can lend the team an extra cutting edge.

Hodgson’s decision to replace Danny Welbeck, who scored twice against San Marino, with Jermain Defoe did not work out, partly because a nervy England sat too deep, leaving Defoe a distant dot on the horizon at times. There was no outlet, nobody to hold the ball up and bring others into play. The Rooney-Welbeck central axis needs persevering with.

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