10 Reasons for England to Be Optimistic at This World Cup
England will embark on their 14th World Cup campaign this Saturday night when they face Italy in their opening Group D game in Manaus.
Back home there is excitement, but not the usual hysteria, which instead has been replaced with a mature realism that England won’t be parading the World Cup through the streets of London next month.
But this doesn’t mean England can’t enjoy a productive and prolonged stay in Brazil this summer, and here I provide nine reasons why they can be optimistic about this World Cup.
The Gerrard and Henderson Midfield Axis
The problem with international football is players being unfamiliar with each other, but this doesn’t apply to England’s partnership in the centre of midfield.
It should also be noted Liverpool’s late dip last season coincided with Henderson being banned for three of the last four games in the Premier League.
The younger man offers commitment, stamina, and hard running, while Gerrard brings his experience, leadership and the ability to still burst forward and score goals.
England's Evolving Style of Play
The statistics from England’s last game at a major tournament, against Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, make for depressing reading.
Over the 120 minutes, which saw England lose on penalties after a goalless draw, Italy made 833 passes compared to England’s pitiful 364.
The masterful Andrea Pirlo made 115 passes on his own, which was more than England’s four starting midfielders put together.
England’s most successful passing route was between their goalkeeper Joe Hart and the striker Andy Carroll.
These numbers overwhelmingly damn England as a team shorn of ideas, who were prone to punting up high balls.
Two years later, while England are still a work in progress, their style of play has improved and significantly evolved.
England now seek to play more of a possession game, boasting players including Adam Lallana who look to make shorter and better passes, and who are more confident of carrying and looking after the ball.
What is certain is England won’t be so predictable in Brazil.
It Is Wayne Rooney's Time to Deliver
The simple law of averages dictate that Wayne Rooney is due a good World Cup this summer.
In 2006 he was hampered by injury, failed to score and finished the tournament by being sent off against Portugal.
Four years later in South Africa he was almost unrecognisable as he failed to score again, and England stuttered their way through four uninspiring games.
The England striker, who boasts 39 goals from 91 England caps, is far too good to aimlessly pass through another World Cup.
At the peak age of 28, and whether on the left or in the centre, Rooney knows this is his last chance to properly burnish his reputation on the world stage. It is his time to deliver.
The Emergence of Raheem Sterling
He is still a teenager and has only four caps for England, but the Liverpool winger can make a major impact in Brazil.
Sterling plays with a youthful brio, a sense of daring, and his direct running and pace troubles the very best defences.
He has also just completed a brilliant season for Liverpool, and it is hoped he can carry this momentum in to the World Cup.
“Raheem is a fantastic player,” his Liverpool team-mate Jordan Henderson said this weekend in Brazil as reported by The Daily Telegraph. “You’ve seen that in the Premier League and even when he’s played for England. He’s outstanding. He has no fear. For such a young boy he’s got great awareness and his knowledge of the game is really good.”
England Boast a Commanding Goalkeeper
At the last World Cup England’s set of goalkeepers were in turmoil.
In the opening game against the USA, Rob Green conceded a terrible goal by spilling a weak shot from Clint Dempsey into the net before he was replaced by an aging David James who would soon concede four against Germany as England were knocked out.
Four years later England return to the World Cup with an established number one in Joe Hart.
Hart might have endured a difficult autumn, but he is a fine keeper who recovered to help Manchester City win the Premier League and now brings his assured presence to England’s World Cup campaign.
England Will Play with No Pressure
For possibly the first time in the history of the World Cup there is no genuine expectation England can win the tournament.
Tired of raising their hopes only for them to be ruthlessly dashed every four years, the English public and media have decided to embrace cold realism and now harbour no realistic hopes their national side can be world champions in Brazil.
Unburdened by the usual pressure, it is hoped this can help England to actually play with more freedom, express themselves better and enjoy their stay in Brazil.
Ross Barkley's Impact from the Bench
Five days before England's opening game against Italy it appears as though Roy Hodgson has settled on his starting 11, and it doesn’t include Ross Barkley.
But fear not, the England manager knows what a special talent he has in Barkley and will still use him coming off the bench in the later stages of games when opposition legs are beginning to tire.
This is when the Everton midfielder could have an explosive impact on games, running at defences with his pace and trickery.
England Have a Goalscorer in Form
Where are England’s goals going to come from?
Step forward Daniel Sturridge.
Ever since arriving at Anfield at the start of 2013 Sturridge has been in a long and rich vein of form, scoring 31 times in 43 games.
On the international stage Sturridge has four goals from 11 caps, including a wonderful strike against Peru 11 days ago.
The Liverpool man has dislodged Rooney from the starting central striking position, and should score goals this summer in Brazil.
England Have Prepared Well
In recent times England have stumbled in to major tournaments hampered by either an injury crisis or a simmering scandal.
Before the 2010 World Cup Fabio Capello appeared unsettled and was endorsing the strange Capello Index, a business venture that would individually grade England’s players in South Africa.
Even before Euro 2012 Roy Hodgson had mere weeks to prepare after the sudden departure of Capello.
But now calm and unity appear to have broken out in the England ranks; there have been no wearying side issues, and Hodgson should feel the benefit of having a full two years to prepare.
The Excitement of Youth
England travelled to South Africa in 2010 with their oldest ever World Cup squad, who had an average age of 28 years and 7 months. Unsurprisingly they would look tired and jaded in their four games.
Now four years later they return to the World Cup with a squad boasting a lot more youth, 10 players under 25, and an average overall age of just 26 years and 6 months.
Roy Hodgson’s decision to select Luke Shaw with only 45 minutes of international experience over Ashley Cole and his 107 caps represents this squad’s new belief in youth.
This is an England squad who could play without fear and the usual baggage, and provide a lot more excitement.