England must overcome a tough group and Amazonian conditions if they are to show they have improved since a miserable tournament in South Africa four years ago and can compete with the world’s best.
Roy Hodgson was thrust into the manager’s role just before Euro 2012 and a quarter-final exit on penalties to Italy reinforced the view that England still came up short when measured against the elite. The Three Lions then made hard work of their World Cup qualifying campaign before finishing with a flourish, as home wins over Montenegro and Poland took them through as unbeaten group winners.
Friendly defeats by Chile and Germany at Wembley in November underlined the size of the task facing England this summer, although Hodgson will take confidence from the performances of his men during the Premier League season. Liverpool’s title-challenging side has been built around a strong core of Englishmen and the emergence of several other youngsters such as Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw hints at a bright future, but it remains to be seen whether that means Hodgson now has the right blend of youth and experience at his disposal or a squad that is without enough players at the peak of their powers.
England’s Group D fixtures
- Saturday June 14: England vs Italy – Manaus (23.00)
- Thursday June 19: England vs Uruguay – Sao Paulo (20.00)
- Tuesday June 24: England vs Costa Rica – Belo Horizonte (17.00)
Coach: Roy Hodgson
A man with vast experience of coaching around the world, Hodgson left his role with West Bromwich Albion in 2012 to take charge of England following Fabio Capello’s sudden resignation. He has been criticised for adopting negative tactics at times but his organisational skills have made England hard to beat and they produced a couple of their most dynamic performances when it mattered most to overpower Montenegro and Poland. Hodgson may not have the flamboyance to appeal to everyone’s tastes but he is an intelligent character who will be driven to succeed and wants his players to ‘express themselves in the same way they do in the top Premier League teams’.
Star man: Wayne Rooney
Sent off against Portugal in 2006 and dreadfully out of form four years ago as England laboured through their group before being outclassed by Germany, Rooney needs to deliver on the big stage in Brazil this summer. Steven Gerrard has too often been relied upon to provide inspiration but if Rooney fires in tandem with his captain it could spark a long run in the competition. Still only 28, the striker has a chance to become the leading all-time scorer for both England and Manchester United. Rooney has the vision and goal threat to win a match on his own with a moment of magic, while his power and work ethic can unsettle any defence.
Tournament best: Winners 1966
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Ben Foster (West Brom), Fraser Forster (Celtic).
Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), Leighton Baines (Everton), Luke Shaw (Southampton).
Midfielders: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Ross Barkley (Everton).
Strikers: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United), Rickie Lambert (Southampton).
Sky Bet odds: 28/1
Fan expectation will no doubt be high, but with two nations ranked higher in FIFA’s world rankings, just getting out of the group could represent an achievement for England. Uruguay and Italy, ranked sixth and ninth respectively, are up first before what could be a crucial final group clash against the relatively unknown Costa Ricans. In such a tight group, England are 6/5 to suffer early elimination, and that shows the uncertainty over the Three Lions' chances. However, optimists can get odds of 28/1 for England to net their first tournament success since lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966. Daniel Sturridge is set to lead the line after a prolific season for Liverpool. The pacey hitman is 66/1 to finish tournament top goalscorer.