As we are getting ever closer to what is sure to be a colourful and exciting world cup in Brazil this summer, you could be forgiven for not expecting a great deal from Roy Hodgson’s England squad. Nationally, expectations are as low as they have probably been for quite a while which is not exactly a bad thing. Hodgson decided against picking a preliminary 30 man squad, read into that what you will. You can look at that in two ways, he was set on 23 players for sometime or he did not feel that naming a preliminary squad had a purpose as an additional 7 would just be making up the numbers.
England have been given a tough group but not an impossible one. There are big tests against first Italy, who always seem to turn up prepared for a World Cup. This takes place in Manaus on 14th June where the heat and humidity is going to be a major factor; whichever side deals with that better will surely be the victor. Then it is Uruguay on the 19th. Uruguay are favourites for many in the group as they are ranked 6th in the world at present and will be a major test. They may will be the biggest obstacle for England to overcome if they are to progress. Lastly it is Costa Rica on the 24th June and some are saying this should be a guaranteed 3 points for Hodgson’s men. I will be hoping the players don’t go into that game with a similar attitude. Costa Rica qualified 2nd in their Group just behind USA and above Honduras. Costa Rica are an unknown commodity in many quarters and should be treated as such.
So what players should England watch carefully?
The Costa Rica Forward has been on loan at PSV Eindhoven from recently relegated Fulham having found it hard to settle in England. He has looked more at home back in Eredivisie where he has scored 5 goals in 13 games. He has good movement, a deadly left foot strike and is useful in the air too. Costa Rica will be hoping he can emulate his form that saw him become quite sort after in his FC Twente days where he scored 35 goals in 61 appearances and was a major factor in them achieving Champions League football.
Marchisio is an attacking midfielder who has been at the forefront of Juventus’ success in Serie A this season and is a very important cog in Italy’s well oiled machine. He works in tandem with Juve and Italy captain Andrea Pirlo, forming a reliable and formidable partnership in midfield. The pair operate very effectively alongside Roma’s Daniele De Rossi. Marchisio is more of a box to box midfielder, embodying everything that is admired about this Italian side. His primary strengths are his work ethic, short passing, long range shooting and his team work mentality.
Mario Balotelli is probably the most unpredictable player in world football. One day you could be forgiven for thinking how is he a professional footballer and on another day he is just unplayable you just never know which Mario is going to turn up. He is definitely a player that should not ever be underestimated and is capable of pure brilliance but one thing that comes with this is baggage. With the right coach he has the capability of being a national hero. Wherever he has been he has seemingly upset a few colleagues but one thing that Balotelli gives you is goals. He has an impressive goals to games ratio everywhere he has been; 20 goals in 59 games for Internazionale, 20 goals in 54 for Manchester City and most recently 26 goals in 43 games in a struggling AC Milan side. He will be a massive danger man for England on 14th June, they underestimate Balotelli at their peril.
Much like Balotelli, Luis Suarez is another controversial player with immense talent. Suarez has recently gone under the knife by having knee surgery but the Uruguayan FA expect him to recover in time for the England game on the 19th June. This will be a major boost for Uruguay, Suarez has been in scintillating form for Liverpool this season which saw them narrowly lose out to Manchester City for the Premier League title. Suarez bagged a very impressive 31 goals this campaign which saw him take the golden boot by a country mile. It has been a huge year for Suarez where he won “Premier League player of the year”, shared the “European Golden Shoe” with Cristiano Ronaldo and was also ranked as “Europe’s Most Influential Player” ahead of the likes of the aforementioned Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic according to a study carried out by Bloomberg. His record at International level is also impressive with 38 in 77 games, making him the obvious main threat going into 19th June, fitness permitting. England will most definitely be hoping his recovery time is longer than first diagnosed.
The Uruguayan Centre Half has had an exceptional season with his club Atletico Madrid where they narrowly missed out on a League and Cup double, Godin is a real handful in either penalty area as he showed last Saturday in the Champions League final with his goal that nearly secured an unlikely double for his club. In the end it was not meant to be but his equaliser a week earlier helped Atletico secure their first La Liga title since 1996. This was a great achievement and Godin played a major part in that. He helped Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois keep 20 clean sheets this campaign. Godin went on to score 8 goals which for a centre half is impressive. Much like the previously mentioned Suarez he makes up the spine of this Uruguayan side he may not be a household name like Suarez but this Summer we may see that he could be as important and as big a threat to England’s progression.