WHAT a difference a week makes.
When I sat down to write this column last Thursday, I was full of optimism about England’s World Cup campaign. The team hadn’t got off to a great start, but I was able to take plenty of positives from the defeat to Italy and felt that they could go on to beat Uruguay and Costa Rica.
How wrong I was!
To be fair, I did qualify my bold statement by saying that the team would need to play as well as they had against the Italians. Sadly, that did not happen.
England played okay against Uruguay, but they failed to create much in the way of clear chances against a team happy to defend deep and play on the counter attack.
Defensively, it’s well documented that England fell a long way short. Glen Johnson had a terrible game at right-back and really should have closed Edinson Cavani down quicker for the first goal, while the less said about the second, the better.
With England already out of the tournament, their third game against already-qualified Costa Rica had the atmosphere of a friendly fixture, with Roy Hodgson making nine changes.
He was right to make some of the changes, giving young players like Luke Shaw and Jack Wilshere valuable World Cup experience, but I would have liked to see the England boss play the side he would like to field going forward.
He insisted that sentiment didn’t play a part in his selection, but then started with Frank Lampard, who is unlikely for play for his country again. Not a selection for the future, but rather worryingly, he was probably England’s man of the match.
It was a poor game. Costa Rica were already thinking about the second round, but England could not break them down.
A post-mortem has been carried out in the national media ever since, and views have been mixed. Some people have been scathing of the national side and insist that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, while others claim that the future is bright.
I come down somewhere in the middle.
On the positive side, we do have a decent crop of players to pick from at the moment. Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck all have the ability to be good players at international level.
Unfortunately, they are all very similar and will have to fight it out for a maximum of three positions in the team, with Wayne Rooney thrown into the mix for good measure.
Elsewhere, things are not so rosy.
The problems are especially pronounced in defence. Left-back is not a massive issue, but with Leighton Baines failing to really impress at the World Cup, I would like to see Shaw made first-choice now.
However, Johnson’s performances in Brazil proved that he is a long way away from being good enough at right-back, but I’m not sure we have anyone better. Kyle Walker is probably next in line, but he’s quite similar to Johnson, in that he’s good going forward but unsteady defensively, so I would like to see Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan given a run in the side.
Centre-back is even more problematic. Gary Cahill was the only England defender to come out of the World Cup with any credit, but there is no outstanding candidate to partner him.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones seem to be going backwards, so Phil Jagielka probably remains the best option, but it’s far from an ideal scenario. Everton’s Jon Stones is seen as the next big thing, but he is yet to play a full season for his club.
These are all big issues, but my main worry is just in front of the back four. Steven Gerrard was pretty terrible playing the anchor role in Brazil and may yet retire from international football, but it might be a good idea for Hodgson to talk him into staying on.
While watching the Uruguay game, I tried to think of an English player, under the age of 30, capable of playing that role. The only ones I can really come up with are Jones and James Milner, but it’s not their preferred position.
If Jack Wilshere can remain fit, he could be a very good player for England, but he needs a more defensive-minded partner in the centre of midfield.
It’s a vital position, and the lack of any real candidates could be a real problem going forward.
In terms of attacking midfielders and wingers, we are pretty well stocked, while Daniel Sturridge has earned the right to lead the line, with Rooney and Welbeck ample back-up.
The good news is that with the European Championship expanding to 24 teams, England should qualify for the finals fairly easily. That means Hodgson has two years and a number of competitive games to bed youngsters like Shaw, Flanagan, Stones and Wilshere into a good team.
Suarez's four-month ban is a rare good decision from FIFA
They say that a picture paints a thousand words, so there’s very little that I need to say about Luis Suarez and the image above.
As I write this, FIFA officials have just announced that the Uruguayan will serve a nine-match international and four-month worldwide ban after biting an opponent for the third time in his career.
It's not often that I say this, but FIFA have got it right.
A two-year ban was being banded about, but that would have been a dramatic over-reaction.
Worse things, like career-ending challenges and outright assaults, against both players and referees, do occasionally happen on the field.
A lot of the hysteria surrounding the incident comes because his actions are so bizarre.
It’s not something that you expect to see in a football match and I would suggest that Suarez needs professional help if he wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
He is of course a repeat offender, which is why four months is a suitable punishment.
Suarez will miss nine Premier League games, the first three Champions League fixtures and the third round of the League Cup. That's a 13-game ban, plus a nine-match ban for Uruguay, which is a step up from the 10-match suspension he received last time.