England’s Young Lions: England World Cup Preview

On Saturday England will embark on another World Cup campaign. The current squad will take on Italy in the heat and humidity of Manaus in a game which comes with less expectation than the English public are used to. England are used to the tabloid press banging the drum about how this is the year that the England team evoke the spirit of ’66 and sweep all before them in a glorious victory at the World Cup. Unfortunately the reality is usually underperforming in the group stages and labouring into the knockout stages, where a few heroic performances usually lead to the heartbreak of a penalty shootout. This new found sense of realism may come from the fact that England have a young and mostly untested squad and go into this World Cup perhaps with one eye on the future. However should England gain favourable results in their opening two fixtures against Italy and Uruguay, the expectation will come rushing back.

England World Cup Preview

The Future is Now                                                              

Roy Hodgson has picked a very youthful squad  with young stars such as Ross Barkley of Everton, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana of Southampton, and Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling of Liverpool taking their place alongside the established names of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard & Frank Lampard. All those in the squad have had excellent seasons in the Premier League with their clubs, but a couple of other young players could have been included to develop a core of young experienced players who would be battle tested come Euro 2016 in France and the World Cup in Russia 2018. Everton’s John Stones has had an excellent season and the central defender has been recognised and is on the standby list, but in a season where both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have struggled as Manchester United’s season went from one disappointment to another perhaps the confidence on the 18 year old Stones on the back of a 5th place finish in his first season in the Everton 1st team should have seen him selected. The second player who may have deserved inclusion is Crystal Palace right back Joel Ward. The right back position has been somewhat of a headache for England without a clear experienced choice after Glen Johnson, due to Kyle Walker’s injury and Micah Richards’s lack of first team football at Manchester City. The young Southampton duo of Nathaniel Clyne and Calum Chambers deserve a mention, however having seen some of Ward’s play this year I feel he should have been considered ahead of the misfiring Smalling. As a key component of a defence that conceded fewer goals than second place Liverpool, Ward also showed his versatility, a great attribute in tournament football, by filling in across the back four and even in central midfield when called upon.

Preparations

England have had, by their usual standards, a fairly uneventful run up to the World Cup, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the only serious injury concern. A few interruptions due to inclement weather in Miami, in conjunction with draws against Ecuador and Honduras, may not have been the most ideal preparations for Roy Hodgson, however there are positives to come from England’s time in South Florida. Oxlade-Chamberlain aside, England came out of the camp reasonably unscathed with no mention of the dreaded metatarsal which has hindered previous campaigns. Ross Barkley’s performances showed great promise and England showed a calm ability to keep the ball and not force the play unnecessarily in the heat of Miami, which will be essential against Italy in Manaus. A couple of minor negatives, Raheem Sterling’s red card against Ecuador will serve as a warning to England’s players that they must keep their cool in the heat of the Amazon. Also with games against Honduras and Ecuador it would have been good to get a win or two out of those games to boost confidence going into the tough games against Italy and Uruguay.

How Far Can England Go?

In a group with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, England face a challenge to even make the knockout stages of the World Cup, but not an insurmountable one. England have the ability to play as a unit and get the results against Italy and Uruguay and should definitely have enough to see off Costa Rica. Should they escape group D this would pit them up against the winner or runner up from group C made up of Columbia, Greece, Japan, and Ivory Coast. All should be winnable games. From the quarter-final stage England will start to meet the heavyweights of world football. A shock result is always possible and a semi-final berth would be seen as a success for this England team, however that’s as far as I feel this England team can go.

Verdict

England have a young unscarred team that can mix it up with some of the more seasoned teams and their young legs may be an advantage in the heat of Brazil. The knockout stages are by no means beyond this team and quarter-final or even semi-final berth are not beyond this squad. However the same old narrative could rear its ugly head once again with a brave team of young England players battling against all the odds only to suffer heartache from 12 yards in the cruel lottery of a penalty shootout. Even if that is the case I see a lot of promise from this squad and if they can take their experiences from this tournament, learn and grow as players from this, they will be strong contenders at Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

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