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Risky roster gives England 4-1 win

Townsend makes debut, Lions get creative against Montenegro

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It was ambitious; it was brave. It was... England?

Some hours before Friday's World Cup qualifier between England and Montenegro at Wembley it was leaked (the England teamsheet is always leaked well in advance of official confirmation) that 22-year-old Andros Townsend would be making his Three Lions debut in the starting lineup.

Considering that the hosts were in desperate need of a victory with only a point separating themselves from their guests and both Ukraine and Poland nipping at their heels, it was a gutsy move by manager Roy Hodgson, who also named attackers Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck to his starting 11.

And after a choppy, uneven opening half the decision paid off with one of England's best periods of football in recent times: four goals and an imperious display from Townsend, who was withdrawn to great applause in the 80th minute.

Mr. Hodgson, sir, you've got some pluck.

Typically, England would have stuffed the midfield, put a single forward up top and crossed their fingers it would all work out. Viewers would have chomped nervously on their nails as their angst-ridden side merely tried to avoid defeat. Rhythm, creativity and courage would have been non-existent; the pressure of the shirt would have weighed down the apprehensive men who wore it.

Somehow, and thankfully so, that template was broken on Friday.

Townsend and Sturridge, with fewer than 10 England caps between them, played with a fearless naiveté their country has craved for years. Both combined nicely with an in-form Wayne Rooney, and Welbeck -- one of the few England internationals who actually plays better for his country than for his club -- maintained a standard his manager has come to expect.

Not surprisingly, Hodgson was lauded for his selections after the 4-1 victory. And rightfully so. Few of his predecessors would have been so daring with so much at stake; fewer still would have achieved such a clear-cut result under the circumstances.

In the world of English football, his was a bold approach. But he was only doing what he should have been doing, and what the likes of Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren and Sven-Goran Eriksen (go up and down the list) did far too little of. That is, picking the best players available regardless of paycheque or profile.

That Townsend made his senior debut in England's penultimate World Cup qualifier is impressive, but it's an appearance he always should have made.

Merit

One of the best players in one of the Premier League's best teams so far this season, the Spurs winger claimed his place in Friday's lineup based solely on merit. It was not a shot in the dark from Hodgson; not a potentially reckless role of the dice.

And what's encouraging for England is that in Ross Barkley they have another young, fearless playmaker who is banging on the door of the starting 11. Jack Wilshere, when in a better vein of form, is another still.

England's primary shortcoming has never been something so straightforward as an inability to score goals or a penchant for letting them in. Rather, it's been a mindset--one of anxiety and unease that has permeated everything they've tried to do on the field.

Now it would seem they have a set of players young enough and green enough to play without the old fears, and a manager keen on using them.

And while England fans can praise him for it today, they should expect it from him tomorrow.

 

Spot kicks

 

-- Australia booked its place in the 2014 World Cup back in June, but that didn't stop the Aussies from sacking manager Holger Osieck following a 6-0 friendly defeat to France on Friday. Osieck, a former Canada manager, had blasted his critics in the press ahead of the match and was relieved of his duties a mere hours after the final whistle.

-- As of press time another four nations (Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Colombia) had punched their tickets to Brazil, joining the 10 who had qualified previously.

-- Portugal's 1-1 draw at home to Israel, Friday, means they're likely destined for yet another two-legged playoff in order to secure their place in the Group Stage Draw.

-- The final round of African qualifying begins today with Burkina Faso hosting Algeria and Ivory Coast entertaining Senegal in the first legs of their playoff series.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 C6

History

Updated on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 7:14 AM CDT: Corrects headline.

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