Don’t panic! Seven reasons England’s defeat is actually a good thing

The Rio Report

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It was agonising, of course, but it was no big deal. England lost their opening match of the World Cup, but the way things have worked out it won't really matter - and in many ways, could actually help the national team go on to greater things in Brazil. Here's why:

[BALOTELLI CONDEMNS ENGLAND TO DEFEAT]

[TIME TO DROP ROONEY]

[KEANE BLASTS HODGSON]

1. It'll keep everybody calm

England went into this World Cup with the nation's expectations the lowest they have ever been, and there is no doubt that the consequent lack of pressure led to what was one of England's best ever opening match performances in a major tournament. Had Roy Hodgson's men translated their intoxicating display into a victory, people would already be talking about their path to the final; thankfully, qualifying for the last 16 is still a major uphill battle, so everybody is remaining calm - and the pressure on the squad is staying in that nice comfort zone.

2. It's changed nothing

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Before England played Italy, the prevailing wisdom was that a stolid opening draw against Andrea Pirlo and co would leave us needing a point against Uruguay and a win against Costa Rica to make the last 16. Thanks to Costa Rica's shock 3-1 win over Uruguay, the form book suggests that we now need a draw against Uruguay and a win against Costa Rica to make the last 16. There is an issue about who you end up drawing in the last 16 or quarter-finals - but given how close Croatia ran Brazil, and how the Netherlands thrashed Spain, there's precious little point thinking about that sort of thing in any case.

3. If you're going to lose, lose 2-1

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World Cup - Balotelli condemns England to opening defeat

Ok, so losing 4-3 or 3-2 would be better still, but those sorts of scorelines are as rare as hens' teeth at World Cups. And with that being the case, 2-1 will do nicely. History has shown time and again that teams who lose, but do so only by a single goal and while getting on the scoresheet often end up squeaking through the group stage on goal difference. If you don't believe us, find an ageing Scot to ask. Scotland missed out on the second round of the 1974, 1978 and 1982 World Cups on goal difference, and the same happened again at Euro '96. The fact that Uruguay lost by two goals while England lost by only one could yet prove crucial.

4. The three Cs: confidence, confidence and confidence

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A dour 0-0 draw in which England tried little and produced less would have sent the national side into the second match against Uruguay in an unsettled and unsure state of mind. Instead, they head into the match knowing that they have a fast, exciting team that can give any side in the tournament a decent game. The defeat will hurt, but underlying it all will be a vastly increased sense of belief in their own abilities. And a healthy extra chunk of confidence is exactly the sort of thing that can be the difference between, say, Raheem Sterling's early blunderbuss effort going just inside the post instead of just wide.

5. Hodgson has been rewarded for adventure, so he'll be adventurous again

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Watching Sterling light up Saturday night's match was reminiscent of seeing Michael Owen in 1998 or Paul Gascoigne in 1990: young, hugely promising and in-form players dropped onto the world's biggest stage to see if they'll sink or swim. They swam, and so did Sterling - and the manager has rightly been lauded for backing his form and talent over reputation. That will give the England boss the freedom to make the same choice again, a blessing which will lift the team for the entire tournament. Even if we go down in flames, hey, at least there'll be flames.

6. It's the ultimate make-or-break call for Wayne Rooney

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Time for England to drop Wayne Rooney after plot to unseat Italy in jungle joust fails

Owen and Gazza aren't the only young England players to have made a big splash at major tournaments in the last 20 years or so: Wayne Rooney was every bit as exciting when he emerged as a freckle-faced, teenager back at Euro 2004. Ten years on against Italy, watching him was almost painful, like seeing a late-career George Best in his bloated Fulham days trying to recapture lost brilliance. He looks like a square peg in a round hole - tough to take considering that not so long ago the entire team was built around him.

Hodgson will give him one more chance as a starter against Uruguay, and rightly so considering his perfectly-timed run and exquisite ball to set up the England goal. Let's hope Rooney can build on that moment, accept his new role, and grab his chances - though with the huge pressure of expectation on him (not least from himself) it's a big if. But Rooney stuck out so badly that if he flops again the obvious will happen: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be fit and get drafted in, and England's attacking quartet will be finally look like it should do. One way or another, the Rooney problem is 90 minutes away from being solved for good.

7. Even defeat against Uruguay might be okay

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You read that right: it's rare, but it does happen. Teams can make it out of the World Cup group stages with two defeats and one victory. If Uruguay beat England, but England beat Costa Rica, and Italy beat both Uruguay and Costa Rica, then group D will have a winner on nine points and three runners-up each on three points. If that happens it'll all come down to goal difference.

And make no mistake: this is not some sort of far-fetched scenario, but one that could easily happen. A wary and wily Italy will outclass Costa Rica and - on the basis of Saturday's games - will be favourites to beat Uruguay; all the more so considering that whey will have two wins and the group in the bag already, and will therefore be able to sit back and hit on the break. England would then need to beat Costa Rica, perhaps 2-0, to make it through; at that point, we give you full permission to panic. Until then, though, let's just stay calm and enjoy the ride…

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