For many a major international tournament, England have provided a team full of stars from the Premier League with huge reputations and subsequently, expectations to match. The expectations have always exceeded the reality though, and after numerous failed attempts, it was undoubtedly time for England to start fresh and build a new, youthful team.
That is exactly what they have done. How well the vibrant youngsters will do is unknown, and really, that is the biggest strength of the England team heading into Brazil. The pressure and expectation was always a burden for England teams of the past, but now the expectations are relatively low and that can only benefit the current crop. Perhaps they could actually exceed expectations for once? That would be something.
From the old guard, only Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Wayne Rooney remain. The rest are either appearing at their first World Cup or are inexperienced at the very best. That may lead to disappointment, but then again, a team of experienced players proven at the highest level never achieved anything — so why not give it a try?
It leaves manager Roy Hodgson with a selection headache as he chooses between young players who are performing well in the Premier League. It can change week to week. Nobody is picked on reputation though, and that should be positive for everybody involved.
The attack is one of the more straightforward areas of the team. Rooney will again be looking to make an impact at a World Cup and will be accompanied by either Daniel Sturridge or Danny Welbeck. Sturridge has enjoyed a breakout season for Liverpool, scoring 20 Premier League goals so far and will be the favorite ahead of Welbeck.
A Rooney/Sturridge partnership could actually prove to be quite a potent force and has a lot of potential to be a real danger for England’s opposition.
The England midfield is the most difficult to predict after undergoing a near-complete revamp. Gerrard will captain the team and start in the center, probably with Jack Wilshere if fit. Jordan Henderson is another England player who has enjoyed a breakout season at Liverpool though, and knows Gerrard well if called upon instead.
Adam Lallana has wowed everybody with his displays at Southampton and looks more likely to start every week. Raheem Sterling, Tom Cleverley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner are all in the mix too. Nothing is definite. Everton starlet Ross Barkley is also making a late run, but Andros Townsend has fallen down the pecking order since his blistering start to the season. With weeks to go though, it’s all still up for grabs for everybody.
The center of defense is where England look most vulnerable after the departures of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. There have been calls for Terry to return from international retirement, but so far that has not come to fruition. It leaves England with Terry’s Chelsea partner Gary Cahill, along with Phil Jagielka of Everton and Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, to try and plug the gaps in the middle.
At left-back, Leighton Baines looks certain to start, and Johnson looks the favorite at right-back. Whether Southampton youngster Luke Shaw or the experienced Ashley Cole will go as left-back cover will be an intriguing pick. Joe Hart is a certainty to start in goal.
England have a complicated group to navigate, but are capable of making it out. If they do, the young team could grow into the tournament with a pairing against either Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece or Japan in the second round. It would offer them an achievable route into the quarterfinals, where it will get a whole lot tougher, and probably result in the end for the young lions.