A Youthful, Attacking England Side Can Win the 2014 World Cup

Graham RuthvenFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

England's Daniel Sturridge, centre celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal from the penalty spot uring the World Cup Group H qualification soccer match between England and Montenegro at Wembley stadium in London, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 . (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Roy Hodgson must be tempted to switch off his phone, cut the cable to his broadband router and bury his head in a pillow until the World Cup begins. Everyone wants to lend the England manager a hand picking the 23-man squad that will join him on the flight to Brazil.

Jose Mourinho says Hodgson should remain loyal to the players he used in the qualification campaign. "I think the players that take me to the Euros or the World Cup are the players I'm going to take to the Euros or the World Cup," said the Chelsea boss, as per the Independent. "They took me, by qualifying; after that, I take them on my plane."

Yet Roberto Martinez says Ross Barkley, a player who featured just once for England in the qualification campaign, deserves a place in the squad for the finals, as per Eurosport. And Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has urged Hodgson to reward Adam Johnson for his recent good run of form with a spot, as per the Mirror.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press/Associated Press

It's little wonder Hodgson hasn't yet scaled the Wembley arch, only coming down when it's time to board the plane to Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps only there would he get any time alone with his thoughts.

But on Wednesday night, Hodgson will be forced to lay out his plans for all to see, with England facing Denmark in one of the final bouts of sparring before June's rumble in the jungle against Italy.

England winning the World Cup is not completely out of the question. Okay, so it's highly unlikely. Even the most ardent Barmy Army foot soldier must shudder at the kind of quality reigning champions Spain might not even take to the tournament (Juan Mata, Fernando Torres).

Germany, Brazil, Italy and Argentina are all much more experienced sides with much better players. And Hodgson can't call on an outstanding individual talent to singlehandedly carry his team, like Portugal can with Cristiano Ronaldo.

But despite their status as a second tier team, England can at least make an impression on the World Cup. All Hodgson needs is a master-plan.

The England manager should look at how Liverpool and Chelsea triumphed against the odds in the 2005 and 2012 Champions League. Neither were particularly great sides but both Rafael Benitez and Roberto Di Matteo were able to build momentum with every game. Hodgson must generate the same kind of energy for his team.

At the Euros, Hodgson seemingly attempted to replicate Di Matteo's Chelsea system, soaking up pressure before hitting the opposition on the counter-attack and making the most of any set piece opportunities.

Hodgson achieved relative success with the strategy, qualifying top from a challenging group and losing on penalties to Italy, who went on to reach the final. But that approach has taken England as far as it can.

When Hodgson gave his side more attacking freedom in the final two World Cup qualifiers against Poland and Montenegro, England flourished, winning 2-0 and 4-1 respectively. It was a glimpse into how England should play in Brazil.

England's new-found strength is in attack, with Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck playing as an adaptable and distinctly modern front four.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Sturridge in particular is a player who would prosper from being deployed in an interchangeable front two with Rooney, flanked by Welbeck and Sterling. So impressive has the Liverpool striker been this season, scoring 21 times in just 25 games, it's hard to see how Hodgson can possibly omit him from the lineup.

"He's hardly played for England," Hodgson said of the Liverpool striker, as per the Guardian"We've been very unlucky with Daniel. Since he's gone to Liverpool he's done very, very well. But quite often when we've had matches, we've been unlucky that he's not been available through injury. In my 25 games Daniel hasn't featured anywhere near as often as I would like."

International football can be difficult for coaches, with only a handful of training sessions, sometimes months apart, to impart concepts and ideas. As a result international coaching often becomes an exercise in piecing together what club sides have already provided for you.

For instance, Vicente Del Bosque transplants the Barcelona engine room into his Spain side by playing Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi together. Joachim Low can do the same with Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger, all Bayern Munich teammates.

With time at such a premium it's difficult, almost impossible, to build something from scratch at international level. Very rarely will an international side go against the grain of what is already being practised domestically. This is something Hodgson must take into account.

By fielding Welbeck, Rooney, Sterling and Sturridge in the same team, Hodgson would be making the most of the club links he has in his squad. It works for the rest of Europe, so why not England?

England must also embrace the exuberance of youth. Rooney was the last player wearing the Three Lions to truly light up a major international tournament, taking the 2004 European Championships by storm with four goals in as many games. The swaggering striker was fearless, determined and had the confidence to take control of any game all on his own. And he was 18 at the time.

Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

Hodgson might not have the same ferocity of raw talent in any of his promising attackers, but he certainly has confidence flowing through his team's youthful veins, certainly in the case of Sterling and Sturridge. Only a man with complete self-belief could celebrate every goal he scores by body popping.

Too often in the past England have been thwarted by a fear of failing, something the fielding of younger players like Sterling (19), Sturridge (24) and Barkley (20) would help eradicate.

Look what happened when Hodgson entrusted Welbeck, then just 21, with leading the line at Euro 2012. The Manchester United striker was the shining light of an otherwise lethargic competition for England, scoring a particularly audacious backheel flick in the thrilling 3-2 win over Sweden. These are the lessons that Hodgson must learn.

England probably won't win the World Cup. But that doesn't mean Hodgson shouldn't be devising a plan to do exactly that.