By Kristian Balkin
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This was every bit the stroll in the park we all hoped it would be. Moldova, ranked 141st in the world, failed to put up anything that resembled resistance and, even with an English history of making things infinitely more difficult than they need be, the eastern Europeans were very much as poor as Roy Hodgson’s England were good. And more.
Hodgson, genetically conservative and, with that, very successful, opted for a line-up of quite potent tendencies and it said quite a lot for the quality of their opposition.
And that is perhaps a point that must be raised in order to quell any potential optimism that could come from this tie. As Sam Wallace from the Independent quite wonderfully put, there are six European teams below Moldova in the rankings and you would have to wonder, on this performance, just how bad that half dozen must be.
They looked dazzled and weary from the very first minute and, with their home support seemingly more impressed with the likes of Steven Gerrard and his midfield partner Frank Lampard, it was clear that enthusiasm was low. When Joe Hart’s goal was tested – and this was rare – there was some noise generated from the modern yet modest stands, but most of it was reserved for England.
Still, though, there were positives to take for Hodgson as opposed to negatives for Moldova. There were no miracles, certainly not ones to the extent that Steven Gerrard speaks of, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular was, in prudent terms, lively and influential in a role that perhaps brought his best talents to the fore.
He was both tenacious and skilful in equal measure and, with the greatest of respect to his replacement later in the tie, Theo Walcott wasn’t quite so effective. Enthusiastic, yes, but you have to feel his Arsenal team mate has taken a significant step ahead of his previous superior.
Somehow, Gerrard and Lampard seemed to form a bond that could at least last fourty-five minutes and still prove fruitful. The only worry that now surrounds the pair is their inevitable lack of longevity – Gerrard will be 34 and his Chelsea compatriot 35 when the World Cup of Brazil kicks off.
Tom Cleverley, though, at least eased some of those concerns with a sterling performance but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Questions must still be asked of just where this national side is truly heading and the Premier League and FA have the most controversial answers to offer. Will there be an acceptance of the fact that England’s highest tier has become far too globalised in terms of foreign imports and, to that extent, foreign investment? Probably not, but we live in hope.
As Hodgson worryingly said, “there will be quite a number of times I have to select players this year who will not be in their teams. That's a risk but it is the nature of the Premier League."
That speaks its own story but it’s one that the scenes unfolding in Moldova at least helped to cover up. Hopefully, though, this victory won’t fuel the idea that Gerrard’s miracle could well be fulfilled – his idea being that England could win the World Cup.
It’s a charming thought, one I’d love to subscribe to myself, but there’s a long road to travel before we can even implant Rio de Janeiro into our vocabulary.
Hodgson is a manager of the highest calibre but he is working in a restrictive role with an increasingly restrictive talent pool to choose from. Danny Welbeck, James Milner and Michael Carrick are all players at the forefront of Hodgson’s mind but the story is certainly not similar at club level.
Where else does that happen? Spain? No way. Germany? Certainly not. Moldova? It’s probable.
Maybe, then, we’re not the worlds apart that this 5-0 score line suggests we are.
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