6 Players to Restore England's Pride at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistJune 21, 2014

6 Players to Restore England's Pride at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    England's 2014 World Cup campaign will be remembered as one of the most disappointing in their history.

    Two defeats in their first two matches saw them eliminated inside a week of their tournament beginning, resulting in a group-stage exit for the first time since 1958.

    Not that there haven't been signs of improvement in England's play. The slow, predictable style that has characterised many of their recent tournament efforts has gone, replaced by a willingness to go forward in numbers with pace and inventiveness.

    Ultimately, though, England's inability to beat sides with one or two world-class players remains, and history won't be kind to Roy Hodgson and his 2014 squad, with Costa Rica's progression from group D putting their inability to qualify for the round of 16 into sharper focus.

    Here at Bleacher Report, we've been looking to the future and have come up with six players who could prove to be key men for England at the next World Cup in Russia.

1. Raheem Sterling

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    He may only be 19, but Liverpool's Raheem Sterling has arguably been England's star player in Brazil, continuing where he left of for Liverpool in what's been a remarkable season for the winger.

    Sterling is in a near-constant state of excitement, always looking to go past defenders with his pace and trickery. He can drag England from inside their own half into the final third and is a brilliant weapon when playing on the counter.

    He looks certain to have a big future in the game and will surely be a key man for England in Russia in four years' time.

2. Ross Barkley

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Many believe Ross Barkley has been underused by Hodgson in Brazil. The Everton midfielder, who is still only 20, has made two substitute appearances, both times demonstrating an ability to create and excite.

    It's the speed of his feet and the quickness of his thought which set him apart from so many other players his age. He is fearless in possession, never afraid to try something extraordinary in order to beat a defender or find a pass.

    Expect him to start against Costa Rica in England's final group game and then consolidate his place in the starting XI for years to come.

3. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Hodgson was robbed of one of his best attacking players when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered an injury against Ecuador during England's 2-2 draw in Miami just over a week before the World Cup began.

    He would surely have played a significant role given his performances in the warm-up games prior to the tournament.

    The 20-year-old has plenty of time to make an impact for his country and, along with a plethora of other young attacking options, represents England's future. He will be a fine player.

4. Theo Walcott

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    One major miss for England in Brazil has been Arsenal winger Theo Walcott, whose pace and goalscoring ability would have enriched Hodgson's young side.

    Walcott suffered a serious knee injury in Arsenal's FA Cup third-round win over Tottenham in January, keeping him out for six months. He was a near-certain starter for England, and his absence was keenly felt.

    Defenders hate playing against Walcott because of his searing pace. It will be a huge boost for England when he returns, and they will be hoping he is in perfect health when Russia 2018 comes around.

5. John Stones

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    Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

    England's decline defensively in recent years has been sharp and destabilising. With world-class stars such as Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell now a thing of the past, Hodgson has had to select a back four lacking the kind of quality England are used to.

    Gary Cahill aside, England's defenders have been negligible in Brazil, and some reinforcements, it would seem, are badly needed before the next World Cup.

    Step forward John Stones, the 19-year-old Everton man who was on standby for this summer's tournament. He appears to have all the attributes needed to become a top-class defender and will surely be in with a shout of a starting place in Russia.

6. Luke Shaw

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    This World Cup may have come just too soon for Luke Shaw to make an impact and start games for England, but the experience of being with the squad will be a valuable one for a player set to be his country's first-choice left-back in the coming years.

    Leighton Baines' experience has seen him preferred to Shaw this summer, despite the Southampton star's excellent Premier League season.

    Baines, though, has failed to impress, and Shaw will be hoping to usurp him as soon as Euro 2016 qualifying gets underway in September.