World Cup 2014: Will England make it out of the group stage?
Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica – the draw for England could have been worse but it could have been a whole lot better.
Group D is arguably the toughest of the lot – although the teams in Group B and Group G may beg to differ – but can England make it through.
You can’t really get a much tougher opening fixture than Italy and the last time we played them, in the Euros, the Italians - and in particular, Pirlo - played England off the park. But it still went to penalties and Roy Hodgson had only been the manager for a few months, so we can’t read too much into that fixture.
When you look at Italy’s squad and England’s, there’s not much in it. Both have strikers who can change a game in a flash, both have creative midfielders who on their day can control a game and the defence, well, you’d have to say Italy are stronger in that department.
Neither side has really performed to the best of their ability recently - with Italy drawing most their last few games - but both could beat anyone on their day.
That doesn’t really help matters so how about Uruguay? Arguably not the team they were during the World Cup in South Africa but they are still a very good side. Suarez is obviously a major threat and they have several creative players who could win a game on their day.
The manor in which England lost to Chile at Wembley was alarming but Chile qualified ahead of Uruguay in the South American qualifying group – plus Uruguay were the last side to actually qualify for the World Cup - so on paper they shouldn’t be as good.
Costa Rica could be the side everyone has to beat but would it be foolish to write them off completely? There have been plenty of minnows that have made it through the group stages when the big teams have been dumped out.
Teams, players, tactics, manager, wags – all areas of every teams can be compared and contrasted to death but truth of matter is all England needs to do is focus on their game first before worrying about the opposition.
The last two friendlies have been pretty dire with Chile walking out easy winners and Germany winning, again, with a second string squad – but Hodgson was clearly experimenting with his side on both occasion.
Cast your mind back to England’s final two qualifiers to remember how well they can play when the time comes. They knew they had to win and they went out and performed like winners, rather than just sitting back and trying to counter-attack the opposition, or attacking in huge numbers but not leaving anyone back for the inevitable counter-attack.
South American teams can play some lovely, slick football, but if the England organise themselves there’s no reason why they can’t compete with anyone. The problem is even if the side beats a couple of good teams, there’s seven games to play to reach the final of the World Cup and it’s doubtful England can keep it going that long.
Rooney was right when he said it was a tough draw but you have to beat the best sides to win the competition – pretty obvious stuff but it’s true.
Would England fans rather we qualified from an easier group only to get hammered by a decent side as soon as the knock out phase began? Or would we rather lose to some of the better teams early on so we are put out of our misery and can enjoy the rest of the tournament?
Having said that how much confidence would the side gain if they managed to top the group? It’s a huge ‘if’ but England could win their group with as little as four points, if everyone won, drew and lost one, which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility in that group.
Looking positively, if England do play well in their opening games, they would also have played a top European and South American side, so they would know they could compete with the rest. Spain, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and even Holland would be another step up in quality but, again, you have to play them at some point.
If England’s best and creative players continue to perform well for the clubs – the likes of Wiltshire, Rooney, Townsend and Gerard - they have a fighting chance of progressing reasonably far. Strangely, considering England’s lack of creativity has been a concern for many years, it could the defence that ultimately costs us.
You’ve got to have faith in your back line first and foremost – it sounds boring but it’s true – so it’s vital Hart rediscovers his form, Hodgson sticks to a settle central pairing and he makes his mind up over Baines and Cole sooner rather than later.
There’s still months to go before the side really starts preparing for the World Cup finals so there’s plenty of time to debate, compare, panic and praise the side.
I don’t think anyone really has a clue how England will do in Brazil, which is both refreshing and frustrating. Battling through to the semi-finals would be equally as surprising as picking up one point during the group stages, but it’s going to be exciting finding out.
The quarter-finals should be within in reach if the side plays their own game and plays with confidence - but after that, who knows?
Article by James Fisher
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