In my opinion

Linda Robertson: England wants to see if it can stand the heat in Brazil

 

lrobertson@miamiherald.com

England wanted to sweat. England wanted to roast. England wanted to burn.

England’s soccer team achieved its main goal in a 2-2 draw with Ecuador inside oppressively steamy Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

England wanted to simulate the conditions it will face in its World Cup opener June 14 against Italy in Manaus, Brazil. Although Miami is not in the Amazon jungle, it often feels like it is. Ninety minutes after the game, England’s players were still wiping their sun-reddened brows.

“Getting acclimated to the weather is why we came here,” Rickie Lambert said.

Players have been training in extra layers of clothing. They’ll have another warmup friendly Saturday, against Honduras. Coach Roy Hodgson not only wants his team ready for heat and humidity but also for Latin American foes. England faces Uruguay and Costa Rica in its other two Group D matches.

But what can England do to prepare for the usual high expectations confronting the team? England always enters the World Cup with the hope of regaining past glory. And always, as reliable as Big Ben, England disappoints.

“Rubbish!” is the typical description of England’s performance.

“Insipid!” was the term most often applied to England’s 2010 showing, in which it tied Algeria and the United States and edged Slovenia 1-0 in group play, then lost to Germany 4-1 in the knockout stage.

England won its only Cup in 1966 at home in Wembley Stadium. Since then, it has never returned to the championship game.

It’s a humbling record for the country that invented football — or soccer, as we Yanks call it — and graced us with so many memorable players. The game was exported to Brazil in 1894 by the son of a British railroad engineer. Brazil long ago supplanted England as the world’s most popular team, and Brazil is favored to win its sixth Cup in Rio de Janeiro on July 12. The last time the Cup was held in Brazil, in 1950, England suffered one its most embarrassing losses, 1-0 to the United States.

Futility at the Cup has become a sort of blackly humorous analogy for England’s shrunken empire. The nearly-lads provide quadrennial grist for sarcastically cynical tabloid headlines.

The Premier League, ironically, gets some of the blame. There are so many international players filling roster spots that homegrown talent doesn’t get a chance to blossom.

England also gets criticized for clinging to an old-fashioned, manly, plodding, uninventive style.

But Wednesday’s game was a sign of changing times. It was lively, entertaining, action-packed, and England matched Ecuador’s adventurousness.

Ross Barkley’s artful run across the middle prompted a clever pass to Lambert, who angled his shot into the net at 51:00 for a 2-1 lead. Lovely. Just lovely.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (feared to have sustained a knee injury) and Luke Shaw played fast and edgy.

“It’s good to see the emergence of the young boys,” said captain Frank Lampard, who turned 36 on Monday. “They’re very fearless. The boys all want to do the right thing. You try to help them but sometimes you do have to let them play, just let them go.”

Hodgson has chosen a new generation for his 23-man squad. Only six have been to a World Cup previously. Shaw, 18, displaced 33-year-old Ashley Cole despite only having made his international debut in March. Everton midfielder Barkley, 20, and Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, 19 (who will miss the Honduras game after being red-carded in a dust-up with Antonio Valencia), have only a half dozen national team appearances between them.

Then there’s Wayne Rooney, 28, supposed to be the once and future star for the Three Lions. The stocky Manchester United forward has not scored a goal in two World Cups. A broken foot and a red card against Portugal blighted his 2006 performances; in 2010 he cursed into a camera lens.

“He only plays well in Manchester,” coach Fabio Capello once said of Rooney. Not fair, as Rooney is England’s fifth-highest goal scorer, but injuries, suspensions and tantrums have marred his career.

Hodgson sent Rooney a message about his lackluster leadup to the Cup by playing him out of position on the left side Wednesday and it did some good as Rooney finally found the net on a tap past Ecuador’s goalkeeper.

“I don’t share the obsession that he has to play here or he has to play that,” Hodgson said.

Sir Bobby Charlton recently gave Rooney a vote of confidence, saying he’s “got that something extra.”

Choosing optimism over cynicism, England fans waved their St. George’s Cross flags and sang “God Save the Queen.” They’ve got a youthful team. No sense dwelling on the past 48 years.

“Football performs a role not unlike that of the royal family, ruined castles and stately homes: as a living symbol of stability and heritage,” David Winner writes in his “sensual history” of English soccer, Those Feet. “But when I think about 1966, I wonder if it would have been better if it hadn’t happened. If we hadn’t won, maybe we wouldn’t be looking back, we’d only be looking forward.”

Read more Linda Robertson stories from the Miami Herald

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