5 Things We Learned from England's Pre-World Cup Friendlies
After weeks of anticipation, Roy Hodgson's England are finally in Brazil, ready to start their 2014 World Cup campaign.
After an underwhelming batch of pre-tournament friendlies, England have definitely settled into their role as underdogs in this year's competition.
However, those three friendlies—against Peru, Ecuador, and Honduras—have shed some light on the squad that carries the hopes of a nation.
Here are just five of the lessons learned.
England Have Plenty of Good Attacking Options
Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney. These are all players who have been lighting up the Premier League all season and who would be quite comfortable lining up against any of the teams in this World Cup tournament.
Even though the last of the friendlies—against Honduras—ended in a 0-0 draw, throughout the three matches we saw more than a few sparks of brilliance from the young attacking talent, Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular. As such, it is good news that Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be fit in time for their opener against Italy.
They Have a Solid First Choice Defence, but No Depth at the Back
The good news is England's first-choice defence is one of the best in the tournament. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka have proven their strength as a defensive pairing, and Leighton Baines is proving Roy Hodgson right in his decision to select him over Ashley Cole.
The bad news, however, is that beyond the first four, England's options are looking far less appealing. The match against Ecuador suggested that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are not up to the task, and combined with James Milner at right-back, they looked largely uncomfortable and disorganised.
Hodgson will hope that no injuries befall his first-choice defence, and if they don't, he will have little to worry about.
Discipline Will Be One of the Biggest Deciding Factors
Even though these matches were "friendlies," there was a surprising edge to them.
Sterling received a red card against Ecuador, and Honduras showed just how frustrating some opponents can be.
Keeping a cool head will be one of the most important factors in the World Cup, something that has cost England in big tournaments in the past. With so much young blood in the team, discipline will need to be emphasised.
Rooney Is Still a Key Player, but Sturridge May Be More Important
It is clear that Wayne Rooney is still very much a part of Roy Hodgson's plans, and we can expect to see him in the starting line-up against Italy. A goal against Ecuador also means that he will be heading into the World Cup with a glimpse of goal-scoring form.
However, though Rooney could yet be a key figure for England, it is Daniel Sturridge who could make the real difference.
When you compare each striker's goal in the pre-tournament friendlies, Sturridge's was a wonderful, self-created goal, and Rooney's was a lucky poach. While they could have easily been reversed, it speaks volumes about the players' confidence right now.
Both of them will have to score goals if England are to succeed in Brazil, but the world may be surprised to see the most exciting play come from Sturridge, rather than Rooney.
England’s Matches Will Be Decided by the Narrowest of Margins
If England are going to win the matches necessary to progress deep into this competition, it will be through strong defending and patient play.
One goal could be all it takes to send England through to the next round, or to send them on the first flight home.
Joe Hart has not always been at his best in an England shirt, but he kept clean sheets in the build-up, and this makes his performances crucial to England's World Cup journey.