England travelled to Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night with their squad severely depleted by injury and the performance in the insipid 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland having drawn stinging criticism from a former national striker, Gary Lineker.
The England team's second top goalscorer ever, now a TV pundit, suggested it was a tactically regressive display from Roy Hodgson's side, describing it as "a step back to the dark ages of two lines of four".
"Don't like England playing this system," he wrote on Twitter. "So easy to play against. Brazil will thrash us if we line up the same way. Predictable and dated. It's not about playing in straight lines, it's about playing between the lines. Depth gives flexibility, passing alternatives, creativity."
Hodgson disputed that he had resorted to a rather rigid 4-4-2 formation, suggesting his side's approach had actually been similar to that of Borussia Dortmund in last Saturday's eye-catching Champions League final. Yet it seems inconceivable that the England manager will be able to tweak his team and tactics ahead of Sunday's game at the Maracanã given that he has been left with only 16 outfield players in the squad after losing Daniel Sturridge to an ankle injury. Another forward, Manchester United's Danny Welbeck, is a major doubt for the game with a knee complaint.
Sturridge, who set up Frank Lampard's equalising goal on his first start for his country to cancel out Shane Long's opener, was hurt in a challenge by Glenn Whelan and having fallen to the ground on the touchline, had to be carried to the dressing room on a stretcher.
He underwent scans on his right ankle and later departed the stadium on crutches and with the foot in a protective boot. England's medical staff are confident there was no fracture to the ankle, but ligament damage will rule him out for the next few weeks.
"He's not going to Brazil and it's a major blow for him, and for us," said Hodgson, who has seen three of his original party withdraw through injury. "Daniel had started the game so well and given the way we played in the second half, having Sturridge in top form on the pitch we might have created even more. I don't want to say it's a serious injury, but it'll keep him out for a period of time.
"I don't think anything's broken, but the doctor and the orthopaedic surgeon will have to contact Liverpool. We think it's ligaments."
Jermain Defoe replaced the Liverpool forward but Hodgson admitted that even he was "not 100% fit" after missing the last part of the season with a pelvic problem, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will need to be assessed after leaving the pitch four minutes from time with a minor calf problem. Welbeck, meanwhile, was not even able to feature on the substitutes' bench.
"He went out for a run yesterday, did an hour's work in the gym and a 20-minute run," said Hodgson. "The swelling in his knee has gone down, but it's a question of whether we've got enough time between tomorrow and Sunday whether he plays. It'll be touch and go, but he's not ruled out.
"I've only got about 15 or 16 players … The only players who didn't get on the field were Joleon Lescott and Jack Rodwell, who I'd brought into the squad for experience. Jack's been out injured for most of the season, and only just came back for Manchester City. So it looks pretty much as if the 15 players who saw us through this game are going to have to see us through the next game as well."
Hodgson, whose squad flew out to Brazil from Luton overnight, still claimed to have spotted plenty of positives from a disjointed display, and gave criticism of his side's system short shrift. "People talk about 4-4-2 but was [Wayne] Rooney a midfield player, one who plays behind the front player, an out-and-out front player?" he asked. "There's been far too much discussion about systems. I was asked to do programme notes for Uefa about the systems Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had brought to European football, but Borussia played 4-4-2 in the same way we played 4-4-2. The important thing is to have players who can attack and defend. Our front players worked hard, tracked back and did a job. The Irish did, too."
The Ireland coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, was glowing in his praise of the team's display, Long's early goal ensuring England have not beaten the side ranked 39 in the world for 28 years. "I have a group with three or four young players, and they need experience," said the Italian. "They can only gain that experience against great teams, like England, against whom they can grow. I'm happy with what I saw from James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Shane Long, who was the best player on the pitch. This was a coming of age for some of my players."
It was also a landmark for the England captain for the night, Ashley Cole, who received a commemorative golden cap from Hodgson prior to kick-off to celebrate a century of appearances for his country. "I never expected to get 100 caps and have the reception I did," said the Chelsea defender. "I'd like to thank the fans, I didn't expect that. It's something I'll never forget. I've lived a little boy's dream today."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ben Sutherland