The 2014 World Cup is almost upon us, and as usual, there has been a lot of conversation following the England team as they make their final preparations for the biggest tournament on the football calendar.
Most of the discussion has been centered around England's attacking options and, in particular, whether star man Wayne Rooney should continue to hold an automatic starting place up front.
However, while there will be a lot of decisions for manager Roy Hodgson to make in order to find the best attacking lineup, the real key to success for England this summer lies with their back four.
As with many knockout competitions that have such high stakes, World Cups can be cagey affairs. And as any England fan knows, the margin between victory and defeat is often painfully small. That is why, for all the talk of the young and exciting English talent up front, their best chance at success will be through consistent, solid defensive performances.
England's defence is already looking strong. With Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka in the centre and Leghton Baines on the left, there is a great deal of experience and defensive quality in this England team. Glen Johnson completes the back four, and although he has been prone to the odd mistake in the past, he has proven that he can perform at the highest level.
They even have the results to back it up. In 10 undefeated qualifying matches, only four goals were conceded. Now, the quality is a step up in the tournament proper, but much of the attacking talent that they will face comes from the same players that they play every week in the Premier League.
When you look at some of the nations who have succeeded at World Cups in the past, it can be tempting to try to emulate their style of play—the confident, possession-fueled football of Spain or the creative, attacking flourish of Brazil. But for an England squad that are so clearly underdogs in this year's competition, that would be a huge mistake.
When you go into a competition like this as an underdog, you have to set aside everything else in favour of one thing: victory. While you might want to add some fancy attacking football to the Brazilian World Cup carnival, in England's case, this would probably get them nothing but a flight home.
Defensive football might not be attractive to watch, but it will get results—you only have to look at teams like Chelsea or Atletico Madrid to see this. Sometimes the best thing that England can do is to accept that they are not the best team on the pitch.
Of course, that does not mean that England must do nothing but sit back and defend for every match.
As mentioned, there is an exciting crop of young attacking players who can really make their mark on this tournament. There will still be plenty of opportunities for these players to express themselves. Just as Eden Hazard shone for Chelsea this season, there is room for someone to step up for England, even when they are forced to protect a result.
This might not be the best squad that England have sent to the World Cup, but it certainly has a lot of merits. The defense is one of them, and if they get the support they need from the rest of the team, there is no reason that they cannot make the biggest impact possible on a competition where just one goal can make all the difference.
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