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No kiss for Mario and no excuses for England

ALAS, Mario Balotelli is not to have his Michael Fagan moment.

THE LIFE OF BRYAN: While England's well-paid superstars failed to defeat either Italy or Uruguay, Costa Rica - with Premier League	         reject Ruiz, pictured scoring - were somehow able to see off both sides. Picture: Getty Sport
THE LIFE OF BRYAN: While England's well-paid superstars failed to defeat either Italy or Uruguay, Costa Rica - with Premier League reject Ruiz, pictured scoring - were somehow able to see off both sides. Picture: Getty Sport

What awaits Bryan Ruiz on his eventual return to England's green and pleasant land remains to be seen, but the chances are it will be nothing half as unnerving as Italy's musclebound striker, Mohawk hairstyle and all, dominating your personal space in search of kisses.

It appears, when it comes to football, that the public down south have lost their edge to an even greater degree than their directionless national team.

There is no obvious, sustained gnashing of teeth over England's meek exit from the World Cup after two matches, there are no effigies of offending midfielders to be strung up and set alight by the angry mob at home and no sign of Roy Hodgson's head on a turnip or worse. Instead, the manager has been told to carry on regardless until 2016 at a very handy rate of £3m-a-year.

The Three Lions have certainly lost their roar on and off the field. Indeed, it appears to have been replaced by the hopeless resignation you would expect to see in the eyes of a big cat accepting that life now revolves around little other than a cage inside a zoo.

The attitude of the English in approaching World Cups and European Championships is strange these days and difficult to become accustomed to. True, the baseless bombast and staggering lack of self-awareness in their past media coverage - the unrealistic hopes of triumph followed by the promotion of witchhunts against decent men such as David Beckham - was difficult to stomach.

There has not been one single fellow in Brazil filmed draped in his St George's Cross, beergut reddened by the sun, defiantly bellowing the 'Eng-Ger-Lund' warcry as he hurls a plastic chair across a public square full of frightened schoolchildren.

The reaction to England's worst-ever display at this level seems to be, well, so reasonable, so measured.

All that braggadocio, belligerence and retribution of old was most off-putting and infuriating at times, but, in a perverse way, you almost begin to miss it a little.

But nine of the 11 men who started against Italy and Uruguay perform week-in, week-out for the top five clubs in the Barclays Premier League. The other two, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, play with Manchester United. Their collective failings in Brazil, the most basic mistakes made in both games, are unacceptable. Criminal, in fact.

The combined earnings of the England squad must be up there with any other team in Brazil. You can bet your bottom dollar those footballers pocket a darned sight more than the Costa Ricans now looking forward to the last 16.

The Barclays Premier League is clearly not all it is cracked up to be, although events in South America will long have been forgotten by the time that voracious money-machine thunders back into action in August.

Should there not be considerable attention placed on why footballers who earn their corn within its most prominent clubs have been so incapable of producing the type of disciplined, structured and inspiring displays served up by Jorge Luis Pinto's unfancied side?

Costa Rica took Uruguay, admittedly without Luis Suarez, apart in their opening fixture. Yesterday, against Italy, they did exactly what England could not do by controlling midfield, keeping their shape and working incredibly hard in closing down Andrea Pirlo.

Coming less than 24 hours after the shambolic nature of England's loss to the Uruguayans, the showing placed the many shortcomings in Hodgson's team into a sharper light.

England's match with Italy was a thrilling end-to-end affair that brought encouraging contributions from the likes of Raheem Sterling and much praise. Italy, as we now know, are as bad as their pre-competition form suggested.

Steven Gerrard has been rightly slated, but there was still some love out there for Wayne Rooney after events in Sao Paulo on Thursday thanks to his first goal in three World Cups. He earns £300,000 every week at Old Trafford and should be carrying his country across the finishing line like Suarez. He is just not up to it.

Compare his tournament with that of Joel Campbell, deemed unworthy of a game at Arsenal, and Ruiz, sent out on loan by Fulham to PSV Eindhoven last season. What are these clubs thinking of? Are these guys being jettisoned simply because they do not sell replica jerseys?

When Ruiz got his head to a fantastic Junior Diaz cross just before half-time against the Azzurri and saw it bounce off the crossbar and over the line, rather like Geoff Hurst in 1966, there was only ever going to be one winner.

Balotelli had expressed his wish to get a peck on the cheek from the Queen should he score. She had no reason to watch the action with any sense of trepidation.

The former Manchester City forward, now at a failing AC Milan, lobbed a great chance wide after being released by one of Pirlo's rare defence-splitters and then put a shot straight at the keeper. That was it.

Hailed as a superstar in the United Kingdom, his world-class credentials are now being more objectively examined. Balotelli's hopes of getting into the Palace are over and done with now.

How sad to fail where an unfortunate such as Fagan succeeded. The unemployed decorator, as you may recall, shinned up a drainpipe in 1982 to invite himself into Her Majesty's bedchamber and seek out nothing more risque than a tot of whisky and a cigarette.

Wrong as he was, putting it all down to too many magic mushrooms in his soup, he was certainly capable of pulling off an ambitious plan.

That is considerably more than many other Englishmen we could mention.

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