England’s opening game against Italy in Manaus is a big one for a number of reasons. A game against the Azzurri is always an event in itself, but it takes on even greater significance at a World Cup Finals, with both teams looking to stamp their authority on a tricky looking Group D.
England’s recent poor showings at World Cups have been characterised by sluggish starts, so Roy Hodgson will be keen to try and halt this trend, whilst also shaking off his tag as a cautious coach in the process. He has been bullish in interviews, stating that: “We will be brave, we will believe in ourselves and we will risk defeat. We won’t try and sneak our way through the games” which will be music to England supporters’ ears.
The first game in Manaus will be doubly challenging due to the extreme humidity, but this shouldn’t be used as an excuse for Roy to renege on his promise to send out teams to win games, and with this in mind, this is the line-up I’d go with for the opener in the magnificent Arena Amazonia.
Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Lallana; Rooney, Sturridge.
First name on the team-sheet was Joe Hart. Whilst Manchester City have had a quieter season than many had anticipated, Hart’s International experience will be invaluable at the tournament, and whilst Hart has been prone to a few high-profile mistakes, I expect the City stopper to excel in Brazil. A special mention should go to Ben Foster, whose return to the International fold is most welcome. A solid, reliable and experienced keeper, Foster will serve as an excellent deputy.
It is the defensive unit that provides Hodgson with his biggest headache. No back four has looked 100% happy in recent times, so the defence coming together when it counts will be a major factor in England’s progression. Gary Cahill has had an excellent season with Chelsea, whilst I’d choose Phil Jagielka as his central partner. If these two can hold it together in the early games, confidence will grow and they could form a formidable partnership.
In Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines England have two defenders that are also excellent at linking up with their attacking counterparts, and providing a threat going forward will be a vital part of Hodgson’s plans. If given the freedom, these two from opposite sides of Stanley Park could prove to be vital components.
The midfield quartet of Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana and Sterling is as an exciting proposition as England has seen for some time. The Liverpool trio will be in Brazil on the back of an unforgettable Premier League season, and their confidence should be sky high. Raheem Sterling continues to excite, and if he can take his league form into the tournament in Brazil, England fans should be in for a treat. Henderson’s inclusion is testament to the improvements he’s made under Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
The final two places go to Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge. Rooney has a wealth of experience to draw on and after a hugely disappointing season with Manchester United, he will be keen to re-establish his credentials on the world stage. Rooney was lacklustre in South Africa, and he will be as keen as anyone to turn in an improved performance. Daniel Sturridge has had an extraordinary season in the red of Liverpool, and he’ll see no reason not to repeat his goal-scoring exploits with the Three Lions on his chest. As confident as he is gifted, Sturridge could prove to be one of the stars of the World Cup.