The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #3 For 6/12/14: #7 England
Photo from Getty Images
Johnson - Jagielka - Cahill - Baines
Henderson -Gerrard- Lallana
Key Bench Options: Wilshere, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner, Smalling, Jones, Shaw
Once again the usual mix of internal pessimism and external castigation of the England program has visited us for another World Cup. Chants of "overrated" despite no one rationally rating the side to be a World Cup title contender has crept in, while the chorus of doom and gloom has pervaded over the country despite being encouraged by its bright young talents.
Roy Hodgson was slammed two summers ago for his tactical approach, but suffice to say, England were a once in a lifetime successful shakeoff of their penalty curse from reaching the semifinals of Euro 2012. The defense, a shambolic display that was ravished by injuries in losing to Germany 4-1 in 2010, was organized this time and tough to breakdown. Even Glen Johnson had a surprising great tournament as the backline's display gave at least some hope that Hodgson could bring a sound defense into this year's World Cup. The question is, would he have the confidence in his offensive options to be aggressive.
Seeing the losses of Theo Walcott and Jay Rodriguez to devastating knee injuries probably would have made most think Hodgson would be planning on more conservative play this summer. But the emergence of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, coupled with the growing reputations of Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, and Adam Lallana, and the unlikely event of Rickie Lambert amazing story, have led to the belief that Hodgson does have every reason now to go forward in numbers.
The play of Steven Gerrard at 34, especially against Andrea Pirlo in the crucial group mega clash opener with Andrea Pirlo , and Wayne Rooney will still center on whether England will be truly dynamic at a major tournament for the first time since Euro 2004. That was the best tournament Rooney ever has had for England as it fittingly came as his first and represents how players sometimes respond better without experience or massive expectations on the biggest stages.
It has to be said that Rooney has been unlucky the last two cycles, coming into 2006 with the much discussed foot injury, the Manchester United man was never able to get going in Germany. An ankle injury then messed up his preparation for South Africa 2010, and despite having more time to recover, just never amassed anything near the quality he is demanded to bring. Now coming into this World Cup relatively healthy after shaking off another foot injury in the second half of the season, it's time for Rooney to be at the level of the Top 5 player he can be when fully right. This may mark as his last chance on the golden stage to show that his world class reputation is not a fluke, especially with calls from some encouraging Hodgson to leave him out the lineup altogether.
Rooney is best suited nowadays as behind two forwards where his underrated passing ability can be maximized equally as his finishing credentials. With Sturridge and Sterling becoming star performers at Liverpool, the 66-year-old manager has no excuse not to use him in that role.
Hodgson though won't have any final thoughts to ponder on who his backline is. Leighton Baines has been rewarded for his tremendous patience behind Ashley Cole's backup and looks to cement his status as truly being one of the best left backs. Johnson comes in the tournament again receiving many doubts about whether he is good enough to start with England and will look to show his horrendous defending days have long departed. With the John Terry-Rio Ferdinand eras and sags over, Gary Cahill has stepped up massively the last few years and will be trusted to not give Three Lions fans some Matthew Upson moments with Baines' Everton teammate Phil Jagielka a decent partner. However, teams will look to see if they can isolate Jagielka as the 31-year-old just isn't a top class defender despite his steadiness.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made very good progress from what looked like a tournament ending injury he suffered against Ecuador, while James Milner is coming off a fine season for Premier League champions Manchester City. Milner will look for his place at right midfield as Henderson is favored to get the nod to star. Jack Wilshere has recovered from his latest injury plagued season and could see himself in the lineup. For sure, you will never see again a Gerrard-Frank Lampard tandem in the starting central midfield, as the now former Chelsea man looks to provide one last World Cup selection with necessary quality and calm off the bench. And spear a great note for highly touted backup left back Luke Shaw, the youngest player in the entire tournament at still just 18.
Despite the criticisms they've received in the friendly vs Ecuador, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones had bright moments in a forgettable campaign for United. Their versatility will be called upon at some point for Hodgson, especially if they make it out of Group D. After the first prominent bad spell in his career, Joe Hart is back to good form and will have a quality backup in Fraser Forster in case the City goalkeeper has a "Hand of Clod" moment.
With Uruguay hoping Luis Suarez is fit enough while Cesare Prandelli wonders if his Italian side will find their best after more lethargic friendly displays, it could have been an even worse draw for England than it turned out to be (sorry for not mentioning you Costa Rica).
Nevertheless the pressure will, as always, be on them to get the results and not suffer a rare exit at the group stages. Because of they do, the consternation surrounding the final World Cups of Gerrard, Lampard, and maybe Rooney will be heard all the way up to Pluto.
Under The Radar, Key Players:
Jagieka: He and Cahill have got to sound and stable, and not make sloppy errors against two teams in Italy (with Chellini, Bonucci and/or Barzagli), and Uruguay (Godin and Lugano) who at least won't make massive mistakes.