With just three weeks to go, the footballing world has been overjoyed at the prospect of enjoying the greatest sporting event on Earth. And yes, it does surpass the Olympics.
As Brazil host the FIFA World Cup, let’s take a look at one of the game’s most consistent under-performers who have failed to get their hands on the coveted trophy for 48 years.
I need not mention the name to showcase England’s performances in international tournaments. If you lose once in a shootout, it’s bad luck, second time, acceptable but always, then it’s a problem with the attitude.
England have been perennially overshadowed in the big tournaments while they have never compromised on the quality of their players. What then is the problem? Is it the manager, a single player, the board?
To be frank, it is none of the above. It is the team by itself that is the problem. To make a noteworthy performance on the grandest stage of them all requires a certain amount of commitment from the players.
Perhaps, the Premier League’s penchant of giving unduly reputation to players restricts them from performing for the country. Wayne Rooney doesn’t run his heart out when playing for the Three Lions, Frank Lampard misses penalties, Steven Gerrard is outrun in the midfield yet these players are rated amongst the world’s best in the Premier League.
Unfortunately for England, they will never churn results unless they come to terms with the fact that a cohesive team alone can win matches and not the brilliance portrayed by a single player for his club.
Roy Hodgson has named a very good squad this time around. Perhaps, the only notable exclusion was that of Michael Carrick. Many thought he would give Hodgson the choice of a three man midfield against big teams but he has just made the standbys.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion) Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United) Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)
As you may see, Liverpool players have clearly dominated the squad along Manchester United. Seeing as these two teams despise each other, we may not see much of a unity in the squad.
Roy Hodgson is a familiar face in much of Europe having managed teams across the continent. His record with Finland and Sweden are impressive while his English traces aren’t as much. In Euro 2012, England were clearly outplayed in the quarterfinals against Italy.
And it should bug Hodgson that he is going to face the same Italy in the opening match of the World Cup. Although Hodgson’s team hasn’t been defeated in the qualifying, the finals present an entirely different situation.
Facing Uruguay and Italy in their first two matches, England have no space for a mistake and even the slightest one could end up damaging their dreams.
3. Gary Cahill
Seeing him play this season, I would bet he is one of the few players in the world capable of stopping Luis Suarez. With a red-hot Balotelli to complement in the opening game, it is imminent that Cahill brings out his best.
With no Terry and Jones likely to be his partner, Gary Cahill will have to take over the defense and have it under his control. Should England obtain a clean sheet in their group stages, I doubt anyone other than Cahill would be the man responsible.
2. Wayne Rooney
Say what you want but there is no doubt Wayne Rooney is a world-class player. For a team in England’s mould, Wayne Rooney fits the bill perfectly. The English team are so indecisive nine times out of ten, they possess no idea what they are doing.
For a team with such poorly executed plans, Wayne Rooney comes across as quite the savior. A versatile player capable of scoring brilliant goals, his experience and work rate will come in handy for Hodgson. Whether Hodgson chooses to play a three-man midfield or a two striker system, Rooney will fit in seamlessly.
His ability to pick out players from long balls complements that of Gerrard’s and if they work in tandem, the team will benefit a lot. And never forget Rooney’s prowess over dead balls. What England lack in open play, they could make up for in set-pieces with players like Rooney capable of finding the goal from a sizeable range.
1. Daniel Sturridge
It was easy, wasn’t it? To pick Rooney and Cahill for three and two, the top spot is left to the Liverpool striker. Forging a deadly partnership with Suarez, it is reminiscent of the days Cristiano Ronaldo was at United so often pairing up with Rooney to guide them home.
Sturridge could easily be equated to a then Rooney or Tevez, at the peak of their scoring powers. With over twenty goals, Sturridge has had an excellent season spare for the Premier League Trophy.
Sturridge’s movement across the frontline and excellent reactions is what makes him a deadly striker. With his teammate Gerrard always ready to put in balls, Sturridge could well walk out with the Golden boot.
As I mentioned earlier, the way England are set up pre-match and the way they play have no connection whatsoever. More often than not, it’s chaos on the field. Roy Hodgson should deal away with these demons of the past and establish a proper yet flexible system.
With the players England have selected, 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 looks to be the preferred choice with Rooney playing the link-up between attack and midfield. With Gerrard up for one spot, Milner or Henderson should fight for the other with Lampard playing a cameo.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Once again, the Premier League’s intense rivalries work up against the national teams benefits. What they gain from these clubs in the form of excellent players, they are yet to earn a team.
The English media often forget football is a game of 11 men and not a solitary player leading the team to glory. One player has long been portrayed the lone star and it was time England came out of such a mess.
To their strengths, unlike the previous times, their team is infused with young blood that is full of raw talent. Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all testament to that fact.
With the older players gradually drying up, it could give the youngsters an incentive to perform on the big stage. Their commitment to the game is never in question and therein lies England’s biggest strength.
Four years ago, I would never have seen the England team beyond the round of 16. However, the squad has changed for better and I sincerely believe Gerrard would deliver in his final hurrah. With the Liverpool captain taking over for England as well, the team is in safe hands.
Should they progress beyond the group stage, which I trust they will, they should make it to the quarterfinals.
They win the penalty shootout in their round of 16 match!