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England still lack that spark

After one game in charge, it's unfair to dismiss Roy Hodgson’s England's chances of winning the upcoming Euros, but the 1-0 win against Norway was all too typical of England.

The Three Lions are too often all roar and no bite. Even with world class players like Steven Gerrard in midfield, Wayne Rooney up front and the ever-improving Ashley Young (pictured) showcasing his talents on the international stage, there’s still a distinct lack of magic, flair and creativity from England.

It was perhaps set for Arsenal's Jack Wilshere to be the player to provide England's midfield with more imagination than what was displayed in Olso, but his development has been hampered by injury this season and at just 20, it is asking too much of someone with such limited experience.

A quick glance at the England squad is more than enough to realise that most of the current crop of players are either not good enough or not quite there yet, lacking the ability to unlock the defences of the best international teams, or even the lesser sides.

Different class

Compare that with Germany and the likes of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger, to name just two players who offer an unpredictable and creative outlet for the rest of the team.

It is no wonder that Germany stormed through qualification with 34 goals and only seven conceded, knocking six past Azerbaijan and Austria respectively. England on the other hand only managed 17 goals in their qualification games, two of which were draws with Montenegro (0-0) and Switzerland (2-2), both of which England should and must be beating.

It's not just Germany that possesses a little magic to marvel at however. Spain obviously has the wonderfully talented trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, with David Villa (although out of this tournament) and David Silva accompanying them.

Italy boasts likes of Andrea Pirlo, Danielle De Rossi and Antonio Cassano, all of whom are as technically gifted as they are physically strong.

Even the likes of Croatia have Luka Modric, who can be as lethal as he is elegant on the pitch, taking on players and feeding strikers with ingenious passes.

This isn't to say that England lack good players who can't be match winners on their day. The defensive work of Scott Parker and Gareth Barry is up there with any other talented midfield. Both have proven their calibre in the Premier League this season.

Frank Lampard and Gerrard are both world class when going forward behind the striker. This is something Hodgson ignored against Norway, shackling Gerrard to the centre of midfield where he has to pick his opportunities more carefully, and thus hindering his effectiveness.

The problem we have in this current England team is that players like Gerrard and Lampard are nearing the end of their international careers. They've been on the scene so long that their threat has waned; their creativity restricted by each manager's tactical system.

New blood

It seems now that Ashley Young is left to be one of the few creative outlets in this team, alongside Wayne Rooney who can make something out of nothing.

The jinking run for Young’s goal in Olso left the Norway defence bewildered and now he’s scored four goals in his last four appearances.

Rooney continues to be the main threat up top for England, Hodgson can only hope he continues his Premier League form when he returns from suspension to face Ukraine on June 19.

Together at Manchester United those two have just been short of phenomenal. The prospect of them playing together at the Euros should put the smiles back on England fans’ faces.

At the minute we’re all resigned to failure and just making it out of the group stage will be deemed a success.

There still remains some hope however in this England team, but Hodgson quickly needs to reignite that spark before all hope fizzles out.

Prospects such as Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should bring some youthful energy and dynamism to England's attack, or at least replace the dull duo of Stewart Downing and James Milner, who epitomised substance over style against Norway.

Combine those two with the goal-hungry Rooney and the flair of Young, and you have a very quick, very talented and aspirational England attack.

It would see the sheer physicality and pace that the English game is renowned for paired with the trickery and creativity that is needed to carve open chances at International level.

No expectation

With almost no expectation from the fans or the media, and almost no pressure from the FA, Hodgson may as well play his hand and go for broke.

He may still be lambasted if it all goes wrong, such is the sensationalist media these days, but lessons will be learned, tactics revised and the players will have the chance to grow.

Hodgson only has to take the gamble and bring back the spark of creativity that England hasn't seen since the days of Paul Gascoigne and Glen Hoddle.

That spark is still there no matter how dim it has become. Once reignited, it will brighten up all our hopes.

By Mick Smith

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