Despite English expectations being tempered in the lead up to this World Cup, a group stage with zero wins, one point and two goals is unquestionably a disappointment.
England may boast one of the world’s best leagues, but its national team has failed to win a tournament since the 1966 World Cup, and a meagre showing in Brazil seems to suggest it is as far away as ever.
While the fingers are being madly pointed back home, a more beneficial approach may be to look at what went wrong and seek to improve before the 2016 European Championships.
We here at Grandstand are a helpful bunch, so we’ve picked out the five key things that went wrong for the Three Lions.
Pre-tournament, almost all of the English attention was fixated on Manchester United star Wayne Rooney.
Plenty were calling for him to be dropped from the side in favour of some fresh blood, but manager Roy Hodgson stuck with Rooney throughout the World Cup.
Unfortunately, he just doesn’t suit this England team. When played on the left, he proved lazy and ineffectual, and when played centrally he seemed to slow forward movements down and get in the way of his team-mates.
He did finally break his World Cup duck against Uruguay, but squandered chances in both of England’s two losses proved costly.
Midfield black hole
In the system used by England, the defensive midfield position is absolutely crucial. The holding players are vital in covering for attacking advances made by the full-backs, offering protection to the back four and keeping possession when the game requires.
England deployed Liverpool pair Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson, both fresh from stellar seasons with Liverpool, in this all-important spot in the hope they could replicate their club form.
The problem, though, is this: Liverpool normally played three men in this position, as they recognised the defensive frailties of Gerrard and Henderson and sought extra protection.
So many of England’s woes stemmed from Gerrard’s inability to adequately shield the back four and Henderson’s inability to hold the ball and dictate the play.
Gerrard’s performance against Uruguay may have all but ended his international career, but a slight tactical shift to something closer resembling Liverpool’s structure may have brought England success and spared the talismanic captain’s blushes.
Clash at the back
In Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, England selected two terrific central defenders who enjoyed fine club seasons at Everton and Chelsea respectively. As a pairing, they don’t really seem to work.
Both are naturally right-sided central defenders, which meant Jagielka had to play in a slightly uncomfortable position, but a lack of cohesion saw England caught out on a number of occasions throughout the tournament.
They had an admittedly tough job as the midfield faltered, as outlined above, but a more familiar defensive pairing may have overcome some of the issues the English experienced at the back.
Roy Hodgson’s decision to replace Jagielka with Chris Smalling for their final match against Costa Rica suggests this pair may not be given too much time to form a successful relationship, but Hodgson needs to give two defenders a chance and stick with them.
Abandoned left side
Anybody with even the slightest interest in football could have watched England’s match against Italy and recognised the the ridiculous amount of space left on the English left wing.
Left-back Leighton Baines wore the brunt of the criticism for failing to deal with a number of Italian attacks down that side, but in truth he was on a hiding to nothing as tactics and team-mates conspired to create a massive weakness in the England team.
For much of the first match it was Wayne Rooney deployed as the left-winger, and he largely ignored his defensive responsibilities when not in possession, while Hodgson’s set up greatly preferred stacking the right side to launch attacks through Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
Denied the confidence of covering team-mates, Baines failed to attack with any purpose and was regularly out of position in defence. A hamstring injury saw him reprieved for the final game and his replacement, Luke Shaw, suffered many of the same problems despite a better combination with Southampton team-mate Adam Lallana.
Before a ball had been kicked at this World Cup, Roy Hodgson had done something incredibly typical of an English manager, but unimaginable for a foreign one – he told a young player to play it safe, and not take risks.
As speculation grew regarding 20-year-old Ross Barkley’s role in the team, Hodgson was quick to dampen expectations despite a man of the match performance in a friendly against Honduras.
“He lost the ball an awful lot of times as well. If he’s going to be the player we want him to be, he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball,” Hodgson said, refusing to “address the media’s obsession with Barkley”.
Barkley looked cautious on the ball throughout his cameo appearances, devoid of the attacking flair he showed throughout the Premier League season and indeed in the match against Honduras.
Four years ago, Germany blasted its way to the semi-finals with a group of precocious and liberated youngsters. A 22-year-old Neymar is revelling in freedom with his national team, and other world greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were given the opportunity to express themselves at World Cups at 19 and 21 respectively.
If England ever wants to produce a player of the calibre of Messi or Ronaldo, they need to be prepared to break the shackles on their young players and let them make, and learn from, some mistakes.