Toothless England on a road to mediocrity in Russia
Former football stars slam Three Lions for lack of incisiveness and creativity
England have qualified for their sixth consecutive World Cup Finals but yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 1-0 victory in Lithuania merely underlined the problems they face if they are to make an impression in Russia next year.
England manager Gareth Southgate spoke of a lack of quality in the final third in the game against Lithuania, when some of the brightest stars from the Premier League failed to shine against modest opposition.
That England suffer from a dearth in creativity is not new, but to see the same old flaws repeated even in the final match of their qualifying campaign was certainly worrying.
Former Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs feels that England's players are scared to "take risks" when they venture forward, instead preferring to retreat into their shells whenever they are on international duty.
He said on ITV: "They should just go and do what they do for their clubs.
"Players like Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford are exciting but something is missing when they wear the England shirt. You score goals by taking risks."
Former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright narrated a picture of a team consumed by fear.
However, he disagreed with Giggs that Rashford was disappointing, instead describing the Manchester United forward as a rare bright spark.
He said on ITV: "When you look at the way we used to qualify out of this group, I can't remember any game where we've played expansive, or not even expansive, just a positive game of football - people getting forward, having shots.
"Apart from Rashford, everybody else looks petrified."
“Something is missing when they wear the England shirt. You score goals by taking risks.”Former Man United winger Ryan Giggs on Rashford and Alli
England may have topped Group F undefeated, but when juxtaposed with Germany, Spain and Belgium's campaigns, the Three Lions' performances pale in comparison.
Their goal tally of 18 from 10 games in a group containing Lithuania and Malta - ranked 120th and 191st respectively in Fifa's rankings - is hardly prolific.
In their final four games, they managed eight goals, but three of those came after the 85th minute against the tiring part-timers of Malta.
Yesterday morning's drab 1-0 win in Lithuania was secured by a penalty from Harry Kane, who has netted 15 times in his last 10 games for club and country.
Said Southgate: "It's a fantastic record and his finishing quality is top, as good as anybody I've played with or worked with.
"I'm never in any doubt that when he has a good opportunity, that it's going to be on target and that there's a fair chance he scores. We're fortunate to have him."
But while the Tottenham Hotspur striker has established himself as one of Europe's most-feared goalscorers, he is feeding off of scraps for England for whom the words "toil, laboured and uninspired" have become watchwords in the media.
A look at the other qualifying groups emphasises the disparity between England's potency and that of the European teams they will join in Russia next year.
Germany racked up 42 goals in 10 games, Poland managed 28 and Spain bagged 35 with one match to play.
Belgium, who also have one game left, hit the net 39 times.
Portugal, who may not even win their group, have 30 from nine games.
Ex-Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton believes that the most important thing for Southgate to do is to find a system that coaxes the players to play with more freedom.
But he is not feeling hopeful about England's campaign in Russia.
He told Daily Mail: "This qualifying campaign has only papered over the cracks. As things stand, England have no chance in Russia.
"If Roy Hodgson was still in charge, he'd be getting pummelled for how poorly England have played."
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle suggested Southgate will have to change England's style to a counter-attacking one.
"They struggle to break teams down," he told ITV Sport.
"They might have to sit back and invite teams on because England have players who can be dangerous when given some space." - WIRE SERVICES