World Cup 2014 : #3 England Preview

“There are two quality players in every position and the manager has gone on record saying there are places available” [Steven Gerrard, England captain, May 2014]

The ’23 enigma’ is the belief that most incidents and events are directly connected to the number twenty-three. This has come about due to the ‘Law of Fives’ which states all things happen in fives, or are divisible by or are multiples of five. Or are somehow directly or indirectly appropriate to 5. The ’23 Enigma’ is regarded as a corollary of this law, since 2 + 3 = 5. And you can directly thank Wikipedia for that pearl. The number is also synonymous with the World Cup as it is the magical number of players you can select in your official squad. So every four years players desperately clamber to be selected in the England twenty-three. Roy Hodgson, affectionately referred to as Roy the Redeemer two years ago, has chosen his and they are shown below.

The England 23

Roy Hodgson’s England XXIII

I am very happy with Roy’s choices. There isn’t one player missing from the squad that I would have selected. The only big name player omitted is Ashley Cole and rightly so. He hasn’t been playing regularly and he isn’t first choice for England as Leighton Baines is better so why waste a reserve place on him when you can bring Luke Shaw (a man who had a great season) to gain vital tournament experience? Cole promptly retired from international football upon finding out the news. It’s the sort of positive decision that’s been missing in previous squad selections. Players were getting in because of their name rather than their form. Remember the Sven days?

This selection seems different. It has an exciting edge. Either end of the pitch is pretty much sorted; Hart in goal and Rooney up top. The midfield is bursting with attacking options to make an impact at their first tournament; the likes of Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling have the chance to make worldwide names of themselves. As do Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert. There’s also a steady core with Gerrard and Henderson, linking up brilliantly at Liverpool, ahead of solid defenders Leighton Baines and Gary Cahill. There are a few positions up for grabs as ever and one or two positions that look a little bare. The right back and centre back options are limited but with a bit of luck the first choice XI won’t be forced into changing much, if at all. If we can get a settled side we can build momentum and form good link ups.

With the squad in place, the next part of any preparation is the friendly matches. The opposition were carefully chosen. Peru at Wembley to provide the South American flavour akin to two of the Group D opponents first. Then Honduras and Ecuador in Miami to rehearse the sweltering conditions of Manaus in the Brazilian jungle for the tournament opener. I went along to the Peru match to say farewell and good luck before Roy’s boys depart for their adventures. It’s always great going to the national stadium and even better when your side win.

England versus Peru

England versus Peru

The Peru game wasn’t a great spectacle, it was extremely comfortable right from the kick off. That’s never a bad thing of course. A win is a win and helps build the confidence and the all important momentum. The starting XI was pretty close to what I’d opt for at the World Cup; with Hart in goal, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka and Baines at the back, Lallana, Gerrard and Henderson in the middle and Rooney with Sturridge up front. The only difference would be Sterling starting for me instead of Welbeck.

ENGLAND Wembley Stadium 30

Daniel Sturridge has had an incredible year and will surely relish going up against his strike partner Suarez in the Uruguay game. He scored an absolute belter against Peru, curling it into the top corner from outside the area. The defence also got on the scoresheet with Jagielka and Cahill netting. They didn’t really have much else to do. The impressive crowd of over 80,000 found it so relaxed that paper aeroplanes were launched from all sides of the ground. Huge cheers went up every time one made it onto the pitch but the real highlight of the night was when one hit a Peruvian defender on the head. Quite a feat.

Job done at Wembley. All the best to the boys heading to Brazil

Job done at Wembley. All the best to the boys heading to Brazil

Having tackled the first obstacle well the players flew to Miami for the warm weather training. This being the England squad, they were met with torrential rain on the first day although this did soon clear and the match against Ecuador was played in the conditions intended. It was largely forgettable like most friendlies but certainly had its moments for a second string England. Ecuador took the lead with their first attack early on, then Rooney got the scrappiest of equalisers after good work on the wing from Oxlade-Chamberlain. He really impressed me in the Euros two years ago and hopefully can provide a decent impact sub option this time round. Not looking too likely though as he went off injured and is expected to be out for a couple of weeks. Not good.

England v Ecuador

Another lowlight was Raheem Sterling being harshly sent off following a mistimed challenge and subsequent square up with Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. Hopefully not a sign of things to come from the officials this summer as it was a rash decision. Other disappointments were Ben Foster’s poor kicking and positioning, a makeshift, nervous defence and James Milner just isn’t up to scratch. He’s not bad but he’s not great either; mediocre. Ecuador also scored a cracking equaliser through Arroyo, past some half-arsed attempts to close down and block from Wilshere and Milner.

On the plus side we saw a lovely strike from Rickie Lambert akin to Carlos Alberto’s classic 44 years previous. The midfield going forward looked decent, particularly the aforementioned ‘Ox’. Two games, two different sides. Roy reverted back to the same starting line up in the thunderstorm-delayed final warm up against Honduras, which indicated maybe what his preferred first choice is.

England v Honduras

Previous pre-tournament games have taught us that they don’t really give any indication as to how the team is going to fare. Remember before the World Cup in Germany eight years ago? Peter Crouch scored a hat-trick in a famous 6-0 win over Jamaica which convinced us we were gonna go all the way this time with that poorly-labelled ‘golden generation’. The reality was a quarter final exit. Or what about the 3-1 against Mexico four years ago? Again another quarter final exit. Before Italia ’90 there was one win, one draw and one defeat. Again not really a sign of things to come as we were one successful penalty kick away from the final that time. So the results don’t seem to give much away. Italy would hope so! They only managed a 1-1 draw with Luxembourg a few days ago. The formations and line ups don’t always follow suit either. Before the 2002 Cup Sven changed from his familiar 4-4-2 to a more attacking 4-3-3 against Cameroon in order to incorporate world beaters Darius Vassell and Emile Heskey, and looked what happened to them.

The conclusion really is to use these friendlies for what they are; as practices. The main thing is for players to not get injured. Marco Reus of Germany and Frank Ribery of France have both had to pull out just before this World Cup due to injury. These games are more to give a chance for players to get used to each other’s company, locked together for weeks on end with little else to do or see. As cricket has shown with Kevin Pietersen’s exit from the England squad, it is vital to keep a happy dressing room. The manager, ably assisted by GNev, has made his decisions. It’s up to the players to take it to Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. The Italians knocked us out two years ago in a dire match. A draw seems likely again this time, maybe England to sneak it. Uruguay are great up front with Cavani and Suarez but the latter has been injured and may not be 100% fit. Costa Rica are the team many people think will be the easiest of the three. If we stay unbeaten we should progress to the knockout stage. The last 16 team is looking to be perhaps Colombia or Greece, which wouldn’t be bad at all. I’m getting ahead of myself but it is all very promising. The World Cup is only a few days away and I just want it all to live up to the hype. Prove that it really is the greatest show on turf.

WATCH the team from BT Sport’s ‘Life’s a Pitch’ discuss England’s chances a week before the tournament starts

READ my starting XI World Cup iconic moments

CLICK for the full World Cup match & TV schedule

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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