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Jun 26, 2014

England aren't the superpowers of old

Former Brazil midfielder Juninho thinks England have a bright future despite being knocked out of the FIFA World Cup after two matches.

In the nationwide hand-wringing and soul-searching currently being experienced by a country that has seen its football team's worst performance at a World Cup since 1958, the media is intent on ensuring no stone is left unturned as they seek to track down those culpable.

This week, one media outlet discussed the lack of passion shown by the Three Lions, citing the failure to sing the national anthem with any fervour as a good example of their declining standards and lack of pride in their country.

So let's consider this: In a modern country that is the very model of the word secular, extremely rich young men who kick a football for a living are being criticised for not singing an anachronistic, dirgeful anthem more suited to an episode of "Game of Thrones" -- a place where gods and queens are given a tad more respect.

Amusingly though, following TV's attempt to gloss over England's extremely turgid 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, if they do decide to change the anthem then Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" might be considered a more worthy candidate.

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England did have the better chances and looked like the team most likely to score in Belo Horizonte, but there was an awful feeling that the Three Lions had actually looked better in their two defeats.

This team is young and may possibly improve over the coming years, but that doesn't alter the nagging sense that we are looking at more of the same. Barring some sort of catastrophe, there is no reason to suspect that players like Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw won't continue to represent England for many years to come, but there is no solid indication that either of these players or their contemporaries have that extra something to light up a game.

If this seems overly pessimistic, it's because England hasn't really produced any world-class players for decades and certainly not anyone capable of doing something special to win a close match. Most players of such skill would have shown themselves by now -- by turning games with their talents, not by looking "positive" or "hopeful."

Yet, the best a frustrated England fan can hope for is a quiet revolution back where there is no media clamour and a microphone isn't shoved in someone's face asking them how they feel about going home. At least the National Football Centre at Burton is now open. Slowly coaches are being produced, and with Gary Neville and Gareth Southgate there is even the likelihood of an English coach who wasn't alive to witness the albatross that is 1966.

- Cross: England's captaincy quandary
- Brewin: Predicting England's XI for Euro 2016

But for all the faults of English football, it has to be remembered that this is a country that does have other priorities. On the morning after the men in white exited Group D following Italy's loss to Costa Rica, there was a 90-minute show on UK radio's national sport network in which the World Cup was discussed at length. No surprise there, you may say. But this wasn't the tournament in Brazil they were discussing; rather this was the Rugby World Cup to be held in England next summer.

It's an anathema to many of us who love football first and foremost, but this is a nation where there is a search to produce the best rugby players, cricketers and athletes to compete in a myriad of other sports. The English may not be the best in the world at anything but they are very good at a lot of things.

It's not much to hang on to as the round of 16 starts and we look on enviously, but, frankly, it's about the best the beleaguered England supporter can hope for.

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