(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Where do you even begin with England? Do you start with their one World Cup victory in 1966? Or do you wax poetically about England’s best finish since 1966, Italia 1990 with the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker in the ranks? Perhaps you offer a link to their 1998 World Cup anthem, “Football’s Coming Home”? Or maybe you make fun of their awful record in penalty kicks?
On paper, this incarnation of the Three Lions is much different from what you traditionally would expect from England. The team possesses players who have flair and creativity to rival the likes of Spain and Brazil. England will find themselves in a group of death, as they will be vying for the round of 16 with Uruguay and Italy. Let’s take a look at the squad.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Fraser Forster (Celtic)
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)
Attackers: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United).
The most recognizable name on the squad is Wayne Rooney. Although Man U had a disastrous season, by their standards, Rooney was one of the team’s few bright spots. At times it looked as though he was one the few players on the pitch who actually cared under the failed management of David Moyes. Despite Rooney’s huge successes for Manchester United, it hasn’t translated well for England in the World Cup. Rooney is still looking for his first goal in the World Cup: he’s failed to score even once in eight matches over the course of 595 minutes. Rooney’s most memorable World Cup moment is a negative one: his red card v. Portugal in the 2006 quarterfinals. Joining Rooney in attack will be Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool striker has had his career reinvigorated since heading over to Anfield. In 29 games in 2013-14 he scored 22 with another 9 assists to his name. The main question for Sturridge is where will he find himself in England’s starting XI: as a left winger or as a striker with Rooney behind him. He played striker for Liverpool and just recently scored a lovely goal at striker in England’s friendly against Peru so that’s where Sturridge will be most likely to succeed.
England will be without two players who have been stalwarts in the England squad going to back 2006, if not earlier: John Terry and Ashley Cole. Terry will not be available due to retiring from international football after Euro 2012. This is unfortunate for England. His centre back partnership with Gary Cahill was rock solid for Chelsea, and keeping the two together for international football would’ve been hugely beneficial for England. Ashley Cole won’t be going to Brazil due to his dip in form for Chelsea this year. The 33-year-old was replaced at LB by
Dave Azpilicueta. With over 180 caps between the two Chelsea defenders, England will be without two of their most experienced active players.
Even without Terry and Cole, England still has players with an abundance of international experience: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The two central midfielders have more than 200 caps between them and have been pivotal for their clubs successes over the years. Gerrard proved pivotal for Liverpool’s return to the top four: he scored 13 goals and provided 15 assists in the Premier League and was a presence in the midfield as well as a great leader as Liverpool’s captain. (With one notable exception.) The same praise can not be given for Frank Lampard’s 2013-14 campaign. He was not a consistent starter for Chelsea and had a much less impressive tally of six goals and three assists. Gerrard has all but guaranteed a place in Roy Hodgson’s XI while Lampard starting is very much a question at this point.
To accompany the 35-year-old Lampard and the 34-year-old Gerrard, England will be bringing four players who haven’t turned 21 yet. The youngest of these players is 18-year-old Luke Shaw. Shaw’s great performances at left back for Southampton got a place in the squad over his idol, Cole. Shaw will be second choice at left back behind Leighton Baines, but making the England squad at 18 is nothing to sneeze at. Shaw will most likely use this as an springboard for trying to unseat Baines at Euro 2016 if not the 2018 World Cup. The two players most likely to start are Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Theo Walcott’s injury has given both of them a chance to seize the opportunity to start on the wing. Both players provide plenty of pace and dribbling ability and will add a burst of excitement to the English attack. Last, there’s Ross Barkley, the most exciting of the four. The Everton midfielder has a propensity for doing something magical on the ball. His goals against Newcastle and Manchester City show that there’s always a chance for him to do something that makes your jaw drop. He’s unlikely to start over Wayne Rooney at CF, but he is a great luxury for England to have as an impact sub.
England’s group of death means they could be facing group stage elimination, which would be their worst World Cup result since failing to qualify in 1994. Going out in the group stage is nothing to be ashamed given their competition and if it happens, England should not automatically declare 2014 a disaster. Providing World Cup experience for Shaw, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling and Barkley will prove crucial for the future of England.