World Cup 2014: England remain positive despite Italy defeat

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Daniel Sturridge says all of the England team are excited about facing Uruguay

From Rio de Janeiro

If England manager Roy Hodgson needed to advertise the air of positivity that still surrounds his squad despite the opening World Cup defeat by Italy, Daniel Sturridge was the perfect front man for the campaign.

England losses can never be a cause for celebration - but the trademark pessimism that usually greets such results remains conspicuous by its absence here in Rio.

Hodgson and his players may have left the Amazonian rainforest after going down 2-1 to the Italians with an air of despondency and disappointment, but there is no doubt it had cleared by the time they touched down after their long flight back to base.

In past tournaments, a loss of such significance is usually the signal for a bout of navel-gazing and questions about where England had gone wrong at such an early stage of the World Cup.

The inquest, of course, could still come should they lose the decisive meeting with Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday. For now, though, both the England camp and those who observed them here in Brazil and back home liked most of what they saw in the Arena Amazonia.

In the absence of any serious expectations of winning this World Cup, the minimum requirement was to at least hint at a brighter future. The performances of the likes of Liverpool striker Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and, briefly as a substitute, Ross Barkley delivered that.

Sir Trevor Brooking & Roy Hodgson share a joke during an England training session
England boss Roy Hodgson looks relaxed alongside Sir Trevor Brooking during training

And at England's Urca Military Base training headquarters, adjacent to Sugarloaf Mountain and away from the increasing hustle and bustle of the Copacabana - where the Fanfest is in full effect and the flags of all World Cup nations are on show, the mood remains upbeat and buoyant.

Sturridge and Welbeck were presented to the media on Monday, an England double act stretching back to their under-21 days and now rivals at each end of the East Lancashire Road at Liverpool and Manchester United.

If Welbeck was the smiling and modest straight man, the exuberant Sturridge was animated, witty and full of confidence that a World Cup meeting with Liverpool team-mate and Uruguay talisman Luis Suarez will not result in the end of England's involvement.

Sturridge, going through bottles of water at regular intervals after another gruelling training session in fierce heat at England's picturesque base, was right on message about Suarez. No special treatment and no talk of fear or apprehension - England will be taking on the Uruguay team, not one man.

And when he revealed his mum's pre-match message before Italy was "mash it up son", England's goalscorer in that defeat looked like a man in the mood to do something similar when the World Cup roadshow moves that short flight to Sao Paulo.

Sturridge said: "I don't think there are fears or anxieties. We're all excited. We understand if we continue playing like we did, we will get results. It's not if we will win, it's when."

England training next to the beach.
England looked sharp as they trained in the build-up to Thursday's game against Uruguay

England have no time to wait, though - that win needs to come right away.

The optimism around England still extends, at least for now, to those of us in the media who have become somewhat fatalistic about these campaigns, especially after the torture of the non-event that constituted their effort in South Africa four years ago.

In contrast to some of the public perception, no-one in this travelling party wishes ill on England in order to conduct a forensic examination of their failings - although judgement cannot be escaped should the worst happen against Uruguay.

England's players were in lively mood going through their paces in the open part of their Urca training session - and there was the added bonus of the sight of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain doing some short, sharp drills that suggested he is now closing in on full fitness after his knee injury.

He was wearing strapping but went through a strenuous session away from the main squad and looked good.

There are, inevitably, issues to resolve and Wayne Rooney's position in England's team - if not his actual place, as Hodgson still seems to retain faith in the Manchester United striker - is still a matter for discussion.

It is increasingly clear that Rooney is, to a large extent, a wasted asset on the flanks and most expert eyes believe he either plays as a striker, behind the striker or not at all.

Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck share a joke during an England press conference
Sturridge and Welbeck both caught the eye during England's opening defeat by Italy

Sturridge showed enough against Italy to demonstrate he must remain as the spearhead, so Hodgson must decide whether to move Sterling, so effective against Italy, to reposition Rooney.

He must also weigh up how any change will impact on left-back Leighton Baines, who struggled badly against Italy, not helped by a lack of protection from Rooney who, in his defence, was attempting to adapt to an unfamiliar role.

The bigger England picture, though, remains bright and healthy. Confidence, if Sturridge's body language is any measure, has not been damaged by the disappointment of Saturday.

Only time will tell if England threw their best punch at Italy on Saturday - but a glance around the camp on Monday suggested they still have a few shots left to land.

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