England at the World Cup: 5 Players with a Point to Prove in Brazil
England will travel to the World Cup in Brazil with very little realistic expectation—at least of winning the tournament.
There will be the usual jingoistic pressure from those who don't watch an awful lot of football, but those who pay attention to the game will know there are at least half a dozen teams a long way ahead of Roy Hodgson's side.
A quarter-final appearance, especially given the tough group England face—they will play Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica—would represent a respectable performance for Hodgson and his players.
However, this does not mean that individual players will not have a point to prove, be they veterans looking to create a legacy, former fringe players trying to cement their places in the side or youngsters trying to make an impact.
Bleacher Report picks out five England players with a point to prove at the World Cup in Brazil.
Even before this season, his form was such for the Toffees that there were some voices suggesting Baines should be ahead of Cole in the pecking order—notably former Everton boss Howard Kendall in The Liverpool Echo.
However, if Cole was still playing regularly for Chelsea, Hodgson's decision would not be quite so clear-cut, with the years of experience Cole offers potentially trumping Baines' credentials for a spot in the side.
As it is, Cole is scrapping with Luke Shaw for the first reserve slot. Hodgson admitted as much to TheFA.com, suggesting that Baines would not be required for the friendly against Denmark because he already knew plenty about the Everton man.
We will be looking at different players. It's been two very good days training and I've been impressed by the attitude and the vigour the players have shown, but with 29 players there will be an awful lot who don't feature in the game.
We know about Leighton but there will be more than that as I can only use 17.
In Brazil, Baines will be trying to prove that he is worthy of his place on the biggest stage of all on merit and not just because Jose Mourinho prefers Cesar Azpilicueta to Cole at left-back.
Indeed, Gerrard is one of the last of that group of players that is still a fixture of the England side. David Beckham and Michael Owen have retired altogether, John Terry is no longer available for England and Ashley Cole's place in the squad, never mind the team, is in serious doubt.
Of course, this applies to Wayne Rooney as well, but chances are this will be Gerrard's last international tournament. Rooney, however, still has one or two left in him in age 28.
It is unlikely that England will win the World Cup, but Gerrard will want to dismiss the perception that he—and indeed the other players lauded for their clubs but not their country—have not performed at European Championships or World Cups.
In addition, it is likely that Gerrard will perform a different role for Hodgson's side than he has in previous years, replicating the deeper-lying midfield role he has occupied for Liverpool this season.
While he has been impressive for his club, he will have to prove that he is equally capable of performing for England.
Despite Hart's return to the Manchester City side after Manuel Pellegrini dropped him in favour of Costel Pantilimon earlier this season following a poor run of form, there are still questions about Hart's goalkeeping.
He can often look suspect against crosses, flapping with a troubling frequency, while he is also prone to making individual mistakes more often than is ideal for an international keeper.
Hodgson told reporters that Hart still has his backing, though:
Hart has had a good response. It must have been hard to lose his place and there was a lot of criticism at the time and I don't care how confident a character you are, or who you are, you are bound to be affected.
We all know keepers are in the unenviable situation where their mistakes are highlighted and cost teams games.
When Joe got his chance again he grabbed it with both hands and turned in good performances. I never doubted his ability to do it.
While Hart's position as England No.1 is relatively secure, it is no longer the foregone conclusion it once was, when a lack of a serious competitor meant he was the only serious candidate for the role.
Hart needs to justify the faith placed in him by Hodgson in Brazil or else the demotion suffered at City might be repeated in the national side.
Whoever Replaces Theo Walcott
With Theo Walcott in the England side, Hodgson had an outlet, a different option to the rest of the team and a genuine weapon on the counter-attack.
His pace was genuinely terrifying to defenders around the world and he has an added maturity and much-improved finishing ability that make him a much greater goal threat.
However, with Walcott missing the tournament in Brazil due to a cruciate ligament injury, someone else will have to take his place on the right of England's attack.
There are a number of candidates.
At the start of the season, it looked like Andros Townsend would be the man, a view reinforced by his fine performances in England's final two qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.
Since then, he has found his opportunities more limited at the club level, having started just one Spurs game under Tim Sherwood since his return from injury in February.
The form horse is Raheem Sterling, who has been one of Liverpool's outstanding players in their rise to second place in the Premier League. He has scored goals alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in Brendan Rodgers' attack.
Another option could be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, of whom Hodgson is clearly a fan, having selected him for Euro 2012. He would offer a more powerful and adaptable option than Sterling or Townsend.
Whoever plays, they have a big role to fill.
A few years ago, England had something of an embarrassment of riches at centre-back.
Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry fought for the two starting spots, with the likes of Ledley King and Jamie Carragher providing more than able back-up.
However, now the cupboard is a little barer. Indeed, Hodgson could only include two centre-backs—Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling, who himself has appeared more frequently on the right for Manchester United—in his squad for the friendly against Denmark.
Cahill is probably the best option and, fitness permitting, he should partner Phil Jagielka in Brazil. However, there have been suggestions that his good form this season has had plenty to do with playing alongside John Terry in Chelsea.
Indeed, Martin Samuel wrote in the Daily Mail recently that Terry was "helping turn Gary Cahill into England’s best available centre half."
Cahill will, quite obviously, want to prove that he is his own man and able to perform without Terry. What better time to do that than against Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Mario Balotelli at the World Cup?