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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

England need to take as many young players as possible to Brazil

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So, hands-up all those who think England can win the World Cup in Brazil? Actually win it, not battle through a few matches, put up a sterling defensive action and then subside on penalties in the knockout rounds?

Take no notice of the ludicrous odds on England most bookies feel compelled to chalk up just to keep up interest in the tournament. And forget Pele's traditional intervention when he says England impress him and have the players to go all the way. He's a very polite man and he likes to give an English audience positive vibes.

So honestly, not many people think England can win it. If that's the case, this really is the time for Roy Hodgson to throw his habitual caution to the wind and bring in the new breed.

GerrardThis is a strange time. Despite the limited opportunities in the Premier League for English players the country seems to have a crop of prospects the like of which haven't been around for 30 to 40 years. Even the Beckham/Lampard et al 'Golden Generation' was essentially four or five very talented players and some solid looking back up - and they weren't often on the park at the same time.

At other times there has been the single talismanic figure - a Gascoigne or Rooney - destined to lead us to the promised land. How embarrassing now to think how much the nation's chances at World Cup 2006 were deemed to depend on Wayne Rooney's fitness.

In Germany with David Beckham four years earlier, Sven-Goran Eriksson gambled on unfit individuals such was the dearth of real quality.

But after taking the England job in unpromising circumstances, Roy Hodgson now has a cavalcade of promise at his disposal; players who aren't yet the finished article but all of them talked about endlessly by fans excited by what they have seen.

In no particular order there are - Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw. Add in the slightly more experienced pack are Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson and Danny Welbeck. Waiting in the wings might be Jay Rodriguez, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

Walcott won't be available in South America and Wilshere is a doubt but that should leave more room for some of the other names above. They need tournament football and experience now and on a continent where no European side has won the trophy, what's to lose?

The answer is face. England have a really tough opening group and there is a very real chance that they might get dumped out by Italy and Uruguay (and Costa Rica are no mugs). Roy Hodgson will be in for a mega mauling if England are on the first plane home. It would be no surprise if he errs towards the familiar when he selects the squad.

But he needs to think about the team for the next 10 years. After the frankly stodgy fare served up at tournaments by successive England sides the country would love to get behind a side playing with a sense of ambition and verve. It might not work but the manager would get plaudits for building for the future.

Anything has to be better than turning up to park two lines of four behind the ball and bang it forward for isolated forwards to run the channels and battle for it in the air (take a look at the re-run of England-Italy in 2012). Having spent years decrying the possibility of playing the 'foreign' way we now have a group who have that rarity in England - technique.

They need the chance to learn more and express those skills and clearly those still eligible for the under-21's are all far beyond that environment. In Brazil the team has to look after the ball and the conditions will mean that the team need good legs to get by.

Steven Gerrard has reached the stage where he can't do everything - as with Liverpool, England should put some energy and talent around him and enjoy the results.

Under Sven, the country went to tournaments with absurdly high expectations but the period from 2008 to 2012 offered a brutal lesson about England's true status in the world game despite what FIFA's ludicrous ratings say.

Now Roy Hodgson has the opportunity to select the most technically gifted and exciting squad since Terry Venables took his selection so close to Euro 96 glory. He has a contract to 2016 and to have a real dart at the next Euros the England boss needs be bold and bring on the future now.

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Hugh Larkin



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