Long one of the most passionate soccer countries in the world, England enter the 2014 World Cup as underdogs.
The Red Lions wavered through World Cup qualifying, drawing against squads like Montenegro and Ukraine before earning a 2-0 win against Poland to ultimately book a spot in Brazil. It was an up-and-down performance that didn't instill much hope.
Moreover, a difficult group awaits. Although the health of Luis Suarez could make things significantly easier, Uruguay remain a difficult test—especially on South American soil—and an experienced Italy squad has looked very good under Cesare Prandelli.
Finally, Roy Hodgson elected to go the way of youth when selecting his final 23, opting for players such as Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw in lieu of the experience of Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick and Andy Carroll.
Still, Cole applauded the decision:
I got the call from Roy and agree England team should be about the young players. I think it best I retire from England team now. 😢😢— Ashley Cole (@TheRealAC3) May 11, 2014
All things considered, it has been a compelling World Cup buildup for one of the most famous teams on the planet, and things have only gotten more intriguing as Hodgson has put together his starting XI for Group D play. Bleacher Report UK tweeted out the lineup:
Let's take a closer look.
|GK||Joe Hart||Manchester City|
|LM||Danny Welbeck||Manchester City|
|CF||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United|
On a recent blog post for Paddy Power, former Manchester United star Paul Scholes urged Hodgson to construct a staring XI capable of attacking in the same ways as Liverpool, who recently scored 101 goals en route to a second-place finish in the Premier League:
It would be refreshing for England to adopt Liverpool’s attacking mentality in Brazil. That means certainly four, and possibly five, Liverpool players in the England starting XI against Italy on 14 June.
South Africa in 2010 was so negative with boring draws. Nothing seemed to happen. England fans, and myself as an England fan, would rather 3‑3 games than dull 0-0 draws. I’d love to see Roy be brave enough to play like Liverpool [or Man United teams of the past].
For the most part, at least in the opener against Italy, Hodgson will go with experience over youth: Gerrard and Jordan Henderson as holding midfielders—they paired wonderfully for Liverpool this season—Welbeck on the left wing over Lallana (Welbeck has often been favored in that position by Hodgson), Rooney playing in the hole and Sturridge, who netted 21 goals in Premier League play this season, up front.
Which of England's youngsters most deserves to start?
While the starting XI for the opener against Italy has been set, don't be surprised if it changes for matches against Uruguay and Costa Rica. Hodgson has built a versatile squad capable of taking many different shapes, especially in the midfield and up front.
As the Red Lions battle through a difficult Group D, adaptation will be necessary.
|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|
It's an interesting mix of old and new.
There are six players who were on the 2010 World Cup squad—Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner and Wayne Rooney—to go with another five who have made three caps or fewer—Fraser Forster, Shaw, Barkley, Sterling and Lallana.
The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward was quick to applaud the final squad:
Can't think of a reason to dispute this England squad. Cole the only grey area but Shaw is the future. No omitted player can feel aggreived.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) May 12, 2014
The strength of this squad lies in its depth. Sure, England may not be as talented as the 2006 squad, and there isn't a dominant central midfield presence or a transcendent goalscorer up front, but there are lots of options.
The back four is solid and likely pretty set in stone, but the midfield is where Hodgson has room to play around. He has solid, reliable options with guys like Henderson and Milner, but he also has exciting young attackers like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (whose health has been in question), Sterling and Barkley who are willing to take on defenders.
Sterling, in particular, finished third in the Premier League with a whopping 2.8 successful dribbles per match, per WhoScored.com.
The likes of Barkley and Rickie Lambert may find it difficult to see the pitch in Brazil, but any one of England's 10 other midfielders and forwards are candidates for significant playing time. That's difficult to prepare for.