MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — Rarely has a loss provided so much optimism for England.
Even though England made a losing start to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years on Saturday, the team looked fearless and lively going forward and showed glimpses of a bright future in the 2-1 defeat to Italy.
Rather than sending out his team for a draw, Roy Hodgson was far from cautious. Hodgson knew the clamor back home was for England to be bold, and the coach was adventurous in the Amazon — picking 19-year-old winger Raheem Sterling in an attack-minded lineup.
In short, this England team was everything the 2012 version was not in the quarterfinal loss to Italy at the European Championship.
“We got criticized two years ago for sitting back and being a bit toothless really, but I think anybody who watched that game could see that we were trying to create,” captain Steven Gerrard said. “We pushed and pushed and gave it everything we’ve got and we were unlucky not to get anything out of it.”
Although Daniel Sturridge leveled within two minutes of Claudio Marchisio putting Italy in front in the first half, England couldn’t come back again after Mario Balotelli headed the Azzurri in front in the 50th minute.
“None of those players let me down today or let the country down,” Hodgson said. “They did what we were hoping they would do except score the equalizing goal.”
But if the English can reproduce spells of attacking vivacity against on Thursday against Uruguay, which slumped to a surprising 3-1 loss to Costa Rica on Saturday, then a place in the round of 16 is not out of reach.
Especially if Sterling is as agile with his mazy runs as he was against the Italian defense.
“He got on the ball, he was confident taking players on — he was outstanding,” said Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson, who won his 12th England cap on his World Cup debut.
Had the strikers’ showed more cutting edge, particularly Wayne Rooney, who is yet to score a World Cup goal, then it could have been a different ending.
“Maybe we have to look at trying to finish a few more chances off, but we can’t point any fingers because everyone has given everything tonight,” Gerrard said. “The effort, desire and commitment was there and we were unlucky not to get anything out of it … but it just goes to show at this level how cruel it is. You try so hard and come away with nothing.”
One area that looks susceptible for England still is in defense. For Italy’s winner, Antonio Candreva swept past Leighton Baines too easily down the right flank, and Balotelli evaded Gary Cahill with ease at the far post to head past goalkeeper Joe Hart.
“You can’t cover when you are going forward as much as we were going forward,” Hodgson said.
What Hodgson has in abundance are creative players who can make an impact from the bench. In the heat of Manaus, though, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana couldn’t produce that decisive touch to set up the strikers to rescue a point.
Losing an opening game isn’t such a setback at a World Cup. England advanced to the quarterfinals in 1986 after opening the tournament by losing to Portugal.
“We are still not out of this group,” Gerrard said. “No matter what the result was tonight, I think we still would have had to go and beat Uruguay. The challenge is more difficult, but it’s certainly do-able.”
Even Italy coach Cesare Prandelli backs England’s chances to progress in Brazil.
“England is one of the strongest teams at the World Cup,” Prandelli said through a translator. “We don’t have players who are as explosive and powerful as England.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.