This could potentially be a transformative World Cup for English soccer. Drawn into a brutal group and traveling with a younger, fairly inexperienced roster on the international stage, this year's tournament in Brazil could be brutal for the Three Lions.
But it could also be the beginning of a new, promising generation, and one that exceeds what will surely be tempered expectations.
There are experienced players, yes, as Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Glen Johnson, among others, make the trip. But it will be the performances of the younger players—Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere—and the less experienced ones, like Adam Lallana, that could make all of the difference.
Facing a group that includes Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica, the English face a gauntlet. Let's take a look at their roster and break down their chances of surviving Group D.
|GK||Joe Hart||Manchester City|
|GK||Ben Foster||West Brom|
|DF||Phil Jones||Manchester United|
|DF||Chris Smalling||Manchester United|
|MF||James Milner||Manchester City|
|ATT||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United|
|ATT||Danny Welbeck||Manchester United|
|MF||Michael Carrick||Manchester United|
|MF||Tom Cleverley||Manchester United|
|ATT||Andy Carroll||West Ham|
Group D Analysis
If you think the English players are particularly bothered by the group they drew, think again. Arsenal's Wilshere certainly wasn't fazed in December:
Tough group...but so what? If we want to win it we will have to play the best teams anyway!!— Jack Wilshere (@JackWilshere) December 6, 2013
There might be a bit of hubris tucked in there, but the overriding principle is true—at some point at the World Cup, you're going to face elite competition. If that competition is staring you down in the group phase, so be it.
A lot of this group may also be decided by an injury, as Uruguay's Luis Suarez—and the Premier League's leading scorer this past season—had surgery on his knee in late May and remains an unknown for this year's tournament. Even if he plays, will he be at 100 percent?
Uruguay is no one-man team—they have the luxury of building the attack around Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani if Suarez can't go—but losing the electrifying Suarez would make their odds of advancing from this group a lot longer.
His team-mate at Liverpool, Gerrard, wasn't afraid to tell Sky Sports he's hoping Suarez will be out of action when Uruguay faces England on June 19:
From a really selfish point of view it would really help England if he was not available, of course it would. I know him personally and I wish him well. I just hope he's fit as soon as possible and certainly for when we go back with Liverpool.
Facing Italy is no easy task either. The Italians were the Euro 2012 runners-up and feature a sturdy, solid spine and a habit of playing well at major tournaments, outside of 2010's shocking group-stage exit.
Led by talisman Andrea Pirlo in the midfield—and always far more dangerous when fiery forward Mario Balotelli is at his finest—Italy are capable of both winning this group and making a deep run in the tournament.
Roy Hodgson had already begun putting together an in-depth scouting report for Italy in late May to prepare his squad, per Daniel Taylor of The Guardian:
[Hodgson] wants his players to operate with a quick pressing style in midfield but is also mindful that the heat and humidity in Manaus mean they cannot exert too much energy. If Italy have the ball in defence his players will not be under instructions to chase it down automatically. The emphasis will be on being more forceful, and restricting space, once the play moves towards the centre of the pitch.
[Football Association performance-analysis manager Andy] Scoulding and his two assistants have also put together individual footage of all the Italy players, to be distributed closer to the game. Joe Hart, for example, will receive his own DVD to study Mario Balotelli’s penalty-taking. For now, however, the emphasis is on the shape of England’s team.
Discipline against Italy is always of the utmost importance, as the Italians keep their shape, play excellent defense and can quickly strike on the counter. They are also quite proficient on set pieces, so the Three Lions will need to limit the number of corners they concede.
As for Costa Rica, underestimating them would be a mistake, but expecting anything less than a victory for England would be foolish. The English should win that match without much difficulty, though, of course, nothing is guaranteed at a World Cup.
The fact that Uruguay could sit Suarez for their first game against Costa Rica and give him more time to rest until they face England on June 19 means the Three Lions will likely face both Italy and Uruguay at full strength. That will be trouble for England, and they'll have a hard time taking any points in those matchups.
Where will England finish in Group D?
England won't lose both of their opening games, but they'll likely only earn a draw against one of those teams while losing the other match. If England can get to four points, they'll have a real chance at advancing, and it also wouldn't be shocking if Italy, Uruguay and England all finished at the five-point mark.
That's probably England's best chance at advancing.
But it's just as possible they'll open with losses to Italy and Uruguay, the former a deeper squad and the latter a dangerous attacking unit that will be tough to beat on South American soil.
England will compete, but they won't advance out of Group D.