The build-up to this World Cup seems to be a lot more mellow this time for England, with this being the first major tournament I remember where people don’t think England should win it.
Nearly 50 years on from their first and only triumph in the World Cup, and with a tough group to match, let’s see how England are looking heading into Brazil.
On paper, being drawn into group H during qualification, England were handed a fairly easy group. Eastern European trips to Ukraine, Montenegro, Moldova and Poland as well as minnows San Marino, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking England should get through without a struggle. Early draws against both Ukraine and Poland put the Three Lions on edge, and with two more draws against Ukraine again and Montenegro, England secured their place in Brazil on the final game week with a 2-0 win at Wembley, against Poland.
By the time Roy Hodgson officially announced his squad on Monday, many people already had a pretty good idea of the squad. Where as most countries announced a 30-man provisional squad, cutting it down to 23 later on, but Hodgson went straight in with a 23 man squad, leaving 7 players on standby in case of injuries.
Defenders : Glen Johnson (Liverpool); Chris Smalling (Manchester United); Phil Jones (Manchester United); Gary Cahill (Chelsea); Phil Jagielka (Everton); Leighton Baines (Everton) ; Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Midfielders : Steven Gerrard (Liverpool); Jordan Henderson (Liverpool); Frank Lampard (Chelsea); Adam Lallana (Southampton); Raheem Sterling (Liverpool); James Milner (Manchester City); Ross Barkley (Everton); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Forwards : Wayne Rooney (Manchester United); Rickie Lambert (Southampton); Danny Welbeck (Manchester United); Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Standby : John Ruddy (Norwich City); John Stones (Everton); Jon Flanagan (Liverpool); Michael Carrick (Manchester United); Tom Cleverley (Manchester United); Andy Carroll (West Ham United); Jermaine Defoe (Toronto FC)
Only real surprises as such come with young, Southampton full-back Luke Shaw making the squad, prompting an emotional Ashley Cole to call time on his England career having amassed 107 caps for his country. Under Fabio Capello in 2010, England took a squad averaging around 30 in age, but under Hodgson this squad is one of the youngest in England world cup history, with an average age of 26. With 10 of the squad having 10 caps or under, it’s a very youthful and inexperienced squad, but one which seems to have excited a lot of people, rewarding the younger players for what has been a wonderful season for the likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley.
Wayne Rooney : With a squad with very little experience, the role of Wayne Rooney has grown even more important for England’s chances this summer. The Manchester United forward finally has someone to rival him in his position with Adam Lallana having a fantastic season in the Premier League, Rooney has to step up or could risk losing place in the side. 89 caps to his name at now 28 years old, this could be Rooney’s last World Cup, and he’ll be keen to beat his previous best of a quarter final exit back in 2006. Arguably England’s biggest goal threat, the 5”9 man possesses strength and power in abundance, and that rare spark that few others in world football have.
Steven Gerrard : Like Rooney, Gerrard is one of very few experienced heads in Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad, and as captain Gerrard has an either bigger role to play in keeping the group as one unit. Now 33, it’s likely that this will be his last World Cup, and if the latest reports are to be believed, his last few games in an England shirt before he retires from international football. With 109 caps, and after one of his best Liverpool seasons in recent years, the Liverpool man has adapted brilliantly to his slightly more defensive role in his later years. Alongside Jordan Henderson, the two could form the partnership that took Liverpool to second in the table, and with the passing ability Gerrard has in his locker, the energetic, younger players in the squad could have a field day against some weak-ish defensives come Brazil.
Daniel Sturridge : With Rooney dropping into the number 10 role in recent years, Daniel Sturridge is the man tasked with leading the line for England this summer. Like Gerrard, Sturridge has had a magnificent season playing for Liverpool, seeing him finish only behind Luis Suarez in the Premier League goal scoring charts. Pacey, strong and with a deadly left foot, Sturridge has shown this season that he is an out-and-out striker at his fourth Premier League club.
Possible Starting Line-Up :
It’s going to be extremely tough for England this summer. They’ve been drawn into a tough group alongside 2006 winners Italy, South American side Uruguay and Costa Rica who no one knows much about. They face these sides in that order, beginning against Italy in the rainforest in Manaus. Difficult temperatures will make it tough for any European side, especially England! Expectations seem lower this year, and I can’t see England picking up maximum points against either Italy or Uruguay.
If England can somehow get through the group stages, either in first or second, they could find themselves in a very winnable game for a ticket into the Quarter Finals. With Group C consisting of Greece, Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan, all four any winnable games, and I’d fancy England to beat any four of those sides with the squad selected by Roy Hodgson.