World Cup 2014: 4 Realistic Ambitions for England's Campaign
The road to glory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil gets underway for European nations this weekend when the qualification campaign for UEFA teams begins.
There will be several countries hoping that what kicks off on Friday will end for them on July 13 at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana stadium.
There will not be too many England fans who will realistically be expecting their team to make it that far. If manager Roy Hodgson can oversee a better campaign than his predecessor Fabio Capello mustered in South Africa two years ago, then most will be satisfied.
Here are some more achievable goals for England to strive for in this campaign.
Top Their Qualifying Group Unbeaten
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People scoff at England's continued high placing in the FIFA rankings—and they would have good cause, seeing as they are currently as high as third in the table, behind only Spain and Germany.
However, the fact is that—failure to reach the finals of Euro 2008 aside—they have qualified for every major tournament over the past decade by winning their qualification group. What's more, they reached Euro 2012 unbeaten.
Drawn in Group H with Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova and San Marino this time out, they should be looking to match that feat of two years ago, while doing so with 10 wins out of 10 is possible but highly unlikely.
Bring Through Young Players
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At Euro 2012, England's squad had an average age of 26.04 years old and the average haul of caps per player was 26.6 each. We could well see both of those counts fall noticeably over the next couple of years.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck were all young players picked for the trip to Poland and Ukraine, while Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker were all unavailable for selection through injury.
With almost two full seasons between now and the big kick-off in Brazil, there could yet be even more young players who force their way into consideration by then.
Find a New Tactical Blueprint
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Following the shock resignation of Fabio Capello just a few months before Euro 2012, Hodgson was only brought in with a few weeks to go before the tournament started.
As such, he had very little time to work with the players and went with a simple but reasonably effective game plan of making the team compact and difficult to beat.
The approach worked to a certain extent, as they only conceded three goals in four matches and kept a clean sheet in each of their final two games against Ukraine and eventual runners-up Italy.
Hodgson may not be the most tactically dynamic manager ever, but he now has almost two years to at least cultivate an approach that makes England less rigid and more adaptable, two attributes that are vital in tournament football.
Reach the Quarterfinals
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Despite being ranked third in the world, England are comfortably sat among the clutch of teams a level below the world's top nations. For them, reaching the quarterfinals of a major tournament is the benchmark of a decent campaign.
While it was seen as a disappointment when England reached the last eight at three successive tournaments under Sven-Goran Eriksson, to do so at the next World Cup would be a mark of progress.
Of course, Hodgson reached the quarters at Euro 2012, but at a World Cup, there is another round between the group stage and the last eight to negotiate if he is to reach what will be seen by many as the minimum requirement.