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Danny Welbeck of England is challenged by Claudio Marchisio of Italy

Danny Welbeck of England is challenged by Claudio Marchisio of Italy

England's Daniel Sturridge scores past Italy's goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu during

England's Daniel Sturridge scores past Italy's goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu during

England's Wayne Rooney looks dejected during the defeat to Italy

England's Wayne Rooney looks dejected during the defeat to Italy

Gary Cahill of England acknowledges the fans after being defeated by Italy 2-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Gary Cahill of England acknowledges the fans after being defeated by Italy 2-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

England's goalkeeper Joe Hart is sent the wrong way as Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick hits the bar

England's goalkeeper Joe Hart is sent the wrong way as Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick hits the bar

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Danny Welbeck of England is challenged by Claudio Marchisio of Italy

FOR the players of England, this was an unfamiliar kind of failure. On Saturday night, they discovered the acceptable face of defeat.

Roy Hodgson's boys may have emerged from the heat of Manaus with no points, yet the deflation was mixed with a strange kind of elation. In Irish speak, they'd given it a lash and, in this era of lowered expectations, that much seemed to be enough. They had entered the territory of the moral victory.

"I think with these ones, you leave feeling good inside because you think, 'yeah, we played good football,' enthused Daniel Sturridge, a man who sprung out of the dressing-room with the demeanour of a World Cup debutant unburdened by previous losses.

This was in keeping with a general theme of the post-mortem. England had lost alright, but they'd lost in a better way than they usually do and that, in itself, was considered a measure of progress.

Cynical voices had wondered aloud if the all-European showdown in the Amazon would check the momentum of a thrilling tournament. Such fears were swiftly removed in a high intensity opening where England's attacking flair was a feature.

"I think if you'd offered me a slow-motion (game) and a 0-0 now, I'd take it," said Phil Jagielka, briefly shifting from the narrative. "But if you take the result away from it and look at the performance, the future is looking good.

"It's what the public want to see. Attacking players, people who can dribble," continued the Everton centre-half, who later added, on a bizarrely cheerful note: "Even defensively, it wasn't horrific."

Jagielka, who turns 32 in August, is still relatively new to all of this after emerging from John Terry's shadow. Wayne Rooney, once again a major talking point in the aftermath of an England reverse, has walked this road all too many times before and he didn't quite radiate the same optimism.

A decade ago, he drew comfort from the long term and its tantalising reserve of possibilities. At 28, a worldly wise 28, he could do with a little more from the present tense. It can't be much fun encountering a mixed zone packed full of media tripping over themselves in the minutes after a gut-wrenching defeat, but throughout his career the Manchester United player has stopped to chat more often than not, foregoing the temptation to manufacture a phone-call or engage in an unfathomably deep discussion with a press officer or security man.

In the bowels of the Arena Amazonia, Rooney initially said all the right things, speaking of bad luck and squandered chances, and then attempted to swerve the issue when posed with queries on his left-sided station in Hodgson's gameplan, a role that placed as much emphasis on his defensive strength given the threat posed by the overlapping Italian right-full Matteo Darmian.

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"I don't know," he replied when asked if it's a position that is best suited to his attributes. "As I said before, I enjoyed the game tonight. Obviously we lost but I was involved. I could have scored. I thought I had an influence."

His mood darkened, however, when he was asked if he fears for his place. In his press conference, Hodgson had explained that Rooney was removed from a central brief because England wanted to get the energy of Raheem Sterling around Andrea Pirlo, a tactic which didn't really work as Cesare Prandelli's narrow midfield was able to function in such a way that the veteran was still able to dictate the play.

Either way, the decision to remove Rooney from a position of pivotal importance to a supporting berth opened the debate on whether his stock had fallen within the current group.

He did finish the game as central striker, when Sturridge was withdrawn, but if the Liverpool attacker leads the line again against Uruguay on Thursday, Hodgson will have to figure out where to accommodate Rooney.

Ross Barkley is knocking on the door, a development that could push Sterling wide, and there's also the possibility of a fit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to consider. The elephant in the room was broached by a question from the scrum.

"With the choices Roy has at his disposal, do you still feel your place in the team is guaranteed?"

"Why do you say that?" snapped Rooney, turning to face the source. "Why would I feel my place in the team is guaranteed? I work hard to try and get in the team."

"I totally accept that, I thought you played well tonight..." responded the inquisitor, before getting cut-off mid-stream.

"I work hard to try and get in the team. I've never ever said my place is guaranteed.

"I think he was asking if you were expecting to play?" interrupted another voice.

"I don't expect to play, I work hard. I want to play. We've got good young players, we all work hard and give the manager different options, different choices and, whoever he picks, I'm sure we can all respect that," asserted Rooney, as one of the many FA media handlers urged the audience to wrap things up.

The loss of temper was more in tune with the natural human response to a crucial defeat in a group which has a drastically different complexion to the pre-tournament predictions thanks to Costa Rica's dismantling of Uruguay.

By contrast, Sturridge was almost disarmingly upbeat, a student of the Brendan Rodgers school, with his contention that he was "heartbroken" completely at odds with his body language.

POSITIVE

"I've got a positive attitude," he explained, perhaps seeking to qualify his joviality.

"I'm going into these last two games believing we can get something out of them. Every game's a final. We lost one final today but we've still got two finals coming up. Regardless of this result, we'd have had the exact same mentality going into the next one."

He was told that he didn't look nervous, and embraced the compliment. "No, I wasn't," he said.

"I'm just thankful to play, thankful for the opportunity, for everything that's come this way. Eighteen months ago, I'd never have thought I'd be in this position so I'm just thankful to God. And, I want to say, it's my mum's birthday tomorrow and I was trying my heart out to make her happy and put a smile on her face."

By scoring a first-half goal, the 24-year-old reckoned he'd succeeded in that mission. "I'm just gutted we didn't win the game, we didn't get the breaks we deserved," he repeated, before confessing that he was high on the adrenaline of the whole experience. "I'm so excited tonight."

Rooney wore no evidence of the same exhilaration, but then he is aware that the recriminations are never usually this kind on the England beat. Thursday is already taking on the shape of a make-or-break encounter and, should the Three Lions fall short again, the sunny disposition of the new kids on the block will be tested.

In the cooler temperatures of Sao Paulo, a repeat performance with a similar result will prompt a very different reaction. The novelty value of glorious disappointment fades quickly, a reality that a weary Rooney knows all too well.


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