Led by Roy Hodgson, the first English coach to lead the national side in a World Cup for 16 years, England went unbeaten through a tricky qualifying group that included Ukraine and Poland, winning six matches and drawing four, scoring 31 goals and conceding four. They will want to improve from their shambolic performance in South Africa in the 2010 World Cup, though it certainly won’t be easy. They are now in Group D comprising themselves, Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica.
Here is a lowdown on the England National Team for the upcoming World Cup.
Roy Hodgson did the gutsy thing by opting for some younger faces. The England squad consists the right balance of youth and experience. The England manager picked performance in the 13-14 season over past national experience. In Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, we see brand new faces representing England at a big tournament. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere are also young but have the experience of playing for England. Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson are two players who enjoyed a fantastic season with Liverpool and would both be hoping to carry this forward with England in the tournament. In James Milner, captain Steven Gerrard, we have two experienced players who again had great seasons with their respective clubs. The experience of vice captain Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney, Phil Jageielka is also going to prove important to prove important for the side.
The talent of these players can hardly be put to question. We already know the effectiveness and the immense quality provided to a team by Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard and Hart. But the youth picked up by Hodgson is also one to watch out for. Young Raheem Sterling is a very pacey winger who has recently become very versatile and mature in his game. He can operate as an attacking midfielder in the No.10 role and regularly tracks back to help his team. Ross Barkley is as good an attacking midfielder as almost anyone his age. His talent is going to only get better with time and he might exploit the World Cup to show us exactly what the hype surrounding him is all about. Luke Shaw was opted for, ahead of Ashley Cole, which caused the veteran to go into international retirement (the sequence of events there might have been different). The 18 year old is a brilliant full back and is being courted by the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. He enjoyed a stellar season with Southampton and impressed the spectators with his skill as he embodied the ideal requisites from a full back- doing the primary defensive duties, along with helping the team with attack by widening the play. These young guns will need to justify exactly why they have been called up to the national side which would probably help them in kicking up a gear and their hunger would also boast England’s chances. Young, fresh minds not bearing the scars of the dismal 2010 World Cup and a disappointing 2012 Euros would be essential in England’s quest to reach the further stages of the tournament.
Another advantage that lies with them is their free- flowing chemistry. If the starting 11 includes Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, they four can benefit from having played the entire season together and their game will naturally benefit from this.
While this point might cause many eyebrows to be raised and some abuses getting hurled this way, the biggest advantage for England, which can easily be taken as a negative aspect surrounding them, would be the fact that despite being a glamorous footballing entity, not much is expected out of them. England can go and play each one of their three group matches with freedom. The only match where they are supposed to emerge winners is the one against Costa Rica. Uruguay and Italy are both considered bigger favorites than England at the moment and hence the Three Lions can approach the group stages merely looking to cause an upset, which could help there cause.
There are two sides to the coin- if we call the England squad the ‘right mix of youth and experience’, it can also be criticized of being one in relative transition as the paradigm is being shifted from the veterans to the young soldiers. The inexperience of the squad is a major advantage for the Three Lions, but it might just prove to be a weakness. Marc Wilmots, Belgium’s coach, correctly summed up the problem of having an young but inexperienced squad when he said that his players might be a little too hungry. Youth brings hunger and passion to the side, but it can also cost you by its naivety. Just ask David Beckham?
The back-line might be one of Hodgson’s biggest concern. Often cited as a brittle one, the England manager is expected to shuffle it a little in the group stages. Regardless, the expected back four is one of Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka and Baines. England conceded only four goals in their qualifiers which is a boost for the side, but against the attacking threat of Uruguay and Italy, one doesn’t know how effective this back four is going to be. Add to that the fact that Joe Hart has a history of panicking and making unwanted errors and letting in some costly goals.
Another weakness of England is its inconsistency at the national level. This does not hold true from match to match, but sometimes even between the match. The England team has often been criticized of being spectacular in patches. For them to get something from the tournament, they would have to bring in consistency to their game and make sure they approach the entire match with similar finesse, grit and skill.
The fate of the group has already been sealed by almost everyone- Uruguay and Italy will progress further and England would reach the Heathrow earlier than expected. England will want prove everyone wrong.
Italy have a strong midfield but an average defence. Which means that if the likes of Gerrard, Henderson, Wilshere and co. are able to win the midfield battle and link up the play well with the wingers- Sterling and Lallana- to finally feed Sturridge and Rooney, the strike duo might be able to get the goals for England. The three lions should also rely on swift counterattacking against the Italian side which can often prove to be vulnerable in such situations.
Here is an interesting fact: Only two teams qualified with a lower percentage of points from winning positions and they recovered just one point from the six qualifying games in which they trailed. The team in question is Uruguay. So England’s strategy against La Celeste should be to get an early goal and defend their lead. Their chances of winning against Tabarez’s men would receive an incredible boost if Luis Suarez misses the match with injury.
England should most definitely win the match against Costa Rica, which doesn’t have particularly big names. The Ticos also don’t score as many goals as the other big footballing nations. But the Englishmen can’t afford to be complacent about the game and respect their opposition to avoid a major upset.
Brazil’s hot and humid conditions might prove to be extra hazardous for the England team which doesn’t have experience of playing in the particular temperature. The climate would favor Uruguay and Costa Rica, the two South American teams who have experience in these conditions.
Uruguay and Italy both are better on paper, at the moment. Uruguay have the attacking proficiency of Luis Suarez (if fit), Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. Italy have one of the best midfield of the tournament comprising technically gifted midfielders which include Andrea Pirlo and Danielle de Rossi among others. The psychological part played by everyone already slashing down England’s chances at the Cup might demoralize the players.
But what is the biggest threat for the English side, is the fact that they face Costa Rica at the end- the side they are expected to defeat. The fate of the group might already get sealed by the time the English team face The Ticos. Had the match happened at the beginning for them, they would be boosted by a win and approached the other two games with a must-win mindset.
When you actually consider what everyone has been speaking all this while about England and their World Cup chances, if the Three Lions manage to win the tournament, or even reach beyond the group stage for many, it would almost be like an underdog pulling off a very unexpected victory. Only twice before have England failed to make it out the group stage of a World Cup, in 1950 and 1958- the 1950 one was incidentally held in Brazil. The pressure to continue this proud tradition would certainly be there. However, carrying little expectations, England also have a few advantages (as stated before). Hodgson’s side also possesses players who are in form and hence they all chances of putting on great performances and helping England’s cause. In conclusion, this is indeed the Group of Death and very less can be predicted beforehand.