FIFA World Cup Prospectus: England
By Duncan Day
Football.com will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview.
Group C: Japan
Group D: Uruguay
Group E: Switzerland
Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Group G: United States
Nickname: Three Lions
World Cups Appearances: 13, champions in 1966
FIFA Ranking: 11th
How Did They Get Here?
England snipped first place in UEFA World Cup qualifying Group H, pitted against Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, and San Marino. Roy Hodgson’s side didn’t lose one match, totaling a 6-4-0 (W-D-L) record.
Opponents (Match Date): Italy (6/14), Uruguay (6/19), Costa Rica (6/24)
Group Prediction: Third
Why Finish In Third?
Group D stands as probably one of the most competitive groups in the World Cup, boasting the likes of England, Italy and Uruguay, all in the top-11 of the FIFA’s rankings. One could argue that Italy’s chance of progressing is the safest taking into account their vigorous attack and latest success (entering the final of 2012 European Championship). But then again, Uruguay probably holds the best group of forwards in Brazil, and we know that Luis Suarez will be healthy for the June 19 matchup. So, England’s squad, albeit showing a great deal of young promise, could find itself behind these two teams. Boss Roy Hodgson, who typically uses more defensive tactics, must employ an offense that really pushes the goal-scoring envelope. If not, it’s hard to envision them advancing past the group stage.
Keeper: If you’re talking about recent form and depth, then England’s goalkeeping position should rank amongst the top international squads in the world. Manchester City’s Joe Hart topped the Premier League in clean sheets this year, tied for second (13 tallies) with four other goalies.
Granted, the Sky Blues preserve a great back line, but the 27-year-old has surely demonstrated his ability as a technically skilled goalkeeper. City’s goalkeeping coach Massimo Battara talked of Hart’s capabilities months ago to The Telegraph: “He has strong legs and a strong structure from his lower back to his highly developed abdominals, which enables him to wait until the last second before exploding to his left or right to make exceptional saves. It's a quality few goalkeepers in the world have.”
West Bromwich Albion goalie Ben Foster will serve England if Hart isn’t available, and he’s a top-quality substitute, coming off consecutive excellent seasons at Birmingham City and West Brom. Foster isn’t a definite world-class goalie necessarily, but he could do fine as a starter upon entrance into a competition.
Talented Position, But We’ll Have to Wait and See
Forward: England’s has three main footballers to look out for: Wayne Rooney, of course, the third-most capped player on the Three Lions, Daniel Sturridge, just finishing a amazing season for Liverpool, and Man United’s Danny Welbeck, not a bad third-choice man.
The reason why this position is uncertain falls under the category of an unsure Wayne Rooney. What England get from the veteran, who had a subpar season with United but has been vital at points during international play, seems up in the air right now.
He must take an attacking role in Brazil, whether or not he sits on the bench in a one-striker formation, or occupies the pitch in a two-forward set. In England’s most recent friendly against Ecuador, Rooney struck for goal, putting doubters to rest concerned that he’s not effective up front. He can perform; nonetheless, it’s a measure of consistency. Rooney could very well break the World Cup’s starting XI, but for me, Sturridge currently gets the nod to start due to his general form this year. Plus, Rooney’s substitution off the bench could pay big dividends assuming the 10-year Man United standout doesn’t shame his standing on the team.
Back Line: England’s center back pairing is a particular point of emphasis in probably Hodgson’s most dubious sector, holding Manchester United pair Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, as well as Everton’s Phil Jagielka.
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill is certainly a lock for a spot at center back but the other four mentioned lack more than 25 appearances with the national team. And while many have been wary of England’s middle defending, Jones and Smalling’s shaky play verse Ecuador (a host of chances and two goals allowed) didn’t help quell these concerns. Both footballers weren’t very triumphant at United this year, and they don’t consistently appear in the center.
Ultimately, they may be susceptible to breakdowns, facing top-tier attacking opponents Italy and Uruguay, after taking on low-quality World Cup-qualifying competition.
On the edge, England’s main 18-year-old Luke Shaw, notwithstanding his display of young promise, isn’t completely reliable at left-back, and he brandishes his unsteadiness in the Ecuador contest, getting beat by Antonio Valencia for the opening score. It’ll be hard for the young standout to replace the already established Leighton Baines during the tournament. Glen Johnson must also bring his “A” game to curb skilled Italian midfielders along with the Uruguay striking duo of Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Grade: B-, leaning slightly towards C+
How Can They Win The World Cup?
Bottom Line: For one thing, it’s by no means a sure bet that England is excluded from advancing past the group-stage. The Three Lions could muscle past Uruguay or Italy, finding themselves in one of those top two spots, even though little hype has surrounded them. Two major things that have to happen for a shot at the World Cup—Rooney, and really the entire team, has to attack and strive for goals. At the same time, England’s back line does have live up to perfection, but it must stay firm at critical moments.
What’s There To Like About England?
Some of the more intense rivalries and exciting football in the world originate from the Premier League and lower divisions. Those who’ve visited the island have raved about the beautiful, lush countryside, picturesque old-time cathedrals and villages. Also, England is home to several top-tier universities--Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and London School of Economics. Even though food doesn’t gain much attention in England, they do have excellent beer, namely stouts and ales.
England’s outfits can be viewed here. They’re Nike-sponsored, and I definitely wouldn’t call them glamorous. “Simple and clean” should suffice as a description.