After months of speculation, Roy Hodgson named his 23-man England squad for the World Cup in Brazil and preparations for the tournament can now begin in earnest this week with the first of three warm-up matches taking place against Peru at Wembley on Friday night before jetting off to Miami where they will face Ecuador and Honduras ahead of their first game in the tournament against Italy on 12th June.
It hardly needs saying that England are without a major International trophy since they won the World Cup back in 1966 and while few are expecting them to match that feat in 2014, there is a growing feeling that England can make an impression on the tournament with a number of exciting youngsters hoping to make their presence felt in South America.
The large majority of the old guard have been discarded by Roy Hodgson with Captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard the only remaining players of that so-called ‘golden generation’. England will be without the likes of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand for the first time in a while at a Major tournament and in come Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, Ross Barkley of Everton and Luke Shaw of Southampton to name just three of the young guns heading to south America that are hoped to spark the next era of England’s national team. Last season’s Premier League saw a number of young English talent rise to the top of the game at Southampton and Liverpool in particular and they have been rewarded with a chance to continue that good domestic form in Brazil.
Sterling and Barkley have been highly impressive as attacking midfielders for their clubs and both have the ability to go past players with a mixture of class and speed which is what England have been so badly lacking in recent years. They have been given the freedom to express themselves by their club Managers and if Roy Hodgson allows them to do the same, they are two players who are more than capable of making a big splash for England over the next couple of months
England will need their entire squad to be in great form if they are to even qualify from their group with Uruguay and Italy their main two opponents in Group D. That was one of the toughest draws they could have received but the same applies for their opponents who would have been less than pleased to have seen the three lions land in their section. The pressure is off Roy Hodgson and the England team to a certain extent which could play into their hands as they come up against the Luis Suarez led attack of Uruguay and the experience and overall class of Italy, who knocked them out of Euro 2012 on penalties.
The headlines have so far been made by the young guns in the England squad but with their lack of experience so stark, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard will become even more important. Both players have been to countless tournaments during their career and both are more than capable of leading England through that tricky looking Group if on form. Gerrard has been rejuvenated in a new deeper role in the Liverpool midfield and should take on the same responsibility for England, while Wayne Rooney will have a point to prove after heading to recent tournaments without a major injury overshadowing him. The Man Utd forward is likely to be paired with in-form striker Daniel Sturridge up-front which does look exciting, on paper at least and the pair could well be crucial in helping England flying under the radar into the latter stages.
At the moment England can be backed at 33/1 to win the World Cup and for once, few could argue with the bookmakers, who normally have England much shorter given the weight of the ‘patriotic pound’ from hopeful fans. However, expectations are pretty low for Roy Hodgson’s men and in truth, any sort of progression to the last 16 of the tournament is likely to be viewed as a success, given their draw. It should however be noted that if England do manage to make it past their Group they are likely to face either Colombia or the Ivory Coast in the round of 16 which is a winnable game if they are on form. That would be considered a decent enough draw for a World Cup knock-out match which could well see them head back to the quarter-finals for the first time since they fell to Portugal in 2006.
At this stage though, England remain somewhat of a mystery when it comes to predicting their performance in South America. It is safe to say that most wouldn’t be surprised if they fell at the group stages but at the same time, there is more than enough young talent in that squad to see them through to the latter stages if they are given the freedom to express themselves. The defence would be a slight worry for Roy Hodgson but there is no doubt that this team is potentially full of goals with Rooney, Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley, Lallana and Gerrard all in great form and hoping to take their club performances onto the world stage this summer. Heads of the nation will be saying progression to the last 16 is the best Hodgson’s men can hope for whilst hearts will believe that an adventure to the last four and beyond is not totally out of the question!