There’s a low rumble of a drum beat in the distance. A drum that beats to a samba rhythm. A beat that is building, the closer we get. Yes indeed, the 2014 World Cup draws near, with the kick off in Brazil, the host country, less than three months away. Four years ago I wrote a series of posts on the World Cup in South Africa as the sort-of-official Mexico based Guardian blogger. It was fun. Let’s do it all again. Without the Guardian this time. I’m not exactly in Mexico any more.
The first World Cup I watched was in 1982. It was also the first World Cup that England had played in during my lifetime. We failed to quality in 1974 and 1978. Nonetheless, despite those back to back set backs, we went to Spain in 1982 in high spirits. After all, our sole World Cup win was still only 16 years in the past and English clubs had dominated in Europe for the previous decade. We beat a talented French side 3-2 in the first group stage but crashed out in the second group stage, despite being unbeaten.
It was a disappointing end. And a sign of things to come. At Mexico 86, Italia 90, France 98 and Japan/Korea 02 we sent decent squads capable of mounting a challenge but crashed out in each of them, twice on penalties. Our ‘golden generation’ went to Germany 2006 as the bookies favourites but failed to live up to the hype. Last time round in South Africa, our golden generation were fading, but we still had hopes they might deliver. They didn’t.
High hopes and a disappointing end is the English World Cup story of the last 30 plus years. How hopeful are we this time round, you might be asking yourself? To put it bluntly, we have no hope. Not a chance. In the next few weeks England’s manager Roy Hodgson will name our 23 man squad to take to Brazil. Make no mistake, it will be the weakest England squad that this country has ever sent to a major tournament. The weakest by quite some margin. There is every chance we will exit the tournament in the group stage.
England have been drawn with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D. We are the third best team in that group, which is a problem. Only the top two teams will progress to the knock out stages. There’s not only a chance we might go out at the first hurdle. It’s the most likely outcome. Our best chance for progression is if Italy implode. Uruguay have a good enough strike force to have a serious impact in the latter stages of the competition. They will surely take one of those top two places.
Where do we start? Why not with the manager, Roy Hodgson. Tactically inept, unable to either read or react to the play in progress and with a history of iffy selection choices. Our back four, the centrebacks in particular. There’s a serious lack of talent at centreback. So much so that the (highly unlikely) return of an ageing John Terry to the fold would prove a genuine boon. We lack a midfield general. Steven Gerrard is being touted as a defensive midfielder for this tournament. He’ll do ok. He’s been doing something similar for Liverpool this season, but I suspect England will ask him to play a more defensive role still that he does for his club. It’s not his best position. But there is simply no one else to do it.
There is a massive question mark over our star striker, Wayne Rooney, given his previous poor form on the big stage. Who else can we turn to who has proven themselves in the domestic game over any length of time? No one. There is a serious lack of depth in this squad. Very little experience. We’ll go into Brazil 2014 with a whole bunch of players with just a handful of caps between them who are genuine contenders for a starting place in the first eleven. We are that desperate.
Cause for hope
Having slated those inexperienced players, they are also our main reason for taking any sort of hope to Brazil at all. Lallana, Sturridge, Shaw, Caulker, Townsend, Sterling, Barkley, Chamberlain and Rodriguez are all youngsters who have had seasons ranging from impressive to outstanding in 2013/14. Although only one of them has any Champions League experience. There is no Messi amongst them. But can two or three of them rise to the occasion and shine? That’s the one plus of throwing youngsters in at the deep end. Maybe they’ll surprise you.
We have no hope of winning Brazil 2014. There’s no point in trying to drag the last few drops of blood out of the 30 year old plus regulars, with one or two exceptions. I would use this tournament to blood our next generation. To give them experience. There’s really no pressure and little expectation. Getting out of the group is a bonus. The heat and humidity in Brazil will probably suit younger, fitter players anyway.
I would only take Cahill and Terry because there are no truly decent English centrebacks under 25 years of age – Phil Jones is the best we’ve got and he is far too inconsisten. Gerrard goes because, well, he is the team captain. You do need some experience to glue the rest of the team together. A leader. But Ashley Cole, Jagielka, Carrick and others can stay at home and watch it on television. My starting eleven, at this moment in time? Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Terry*, Shaw, Gerrard, Lallana, Chamberlain, Wilshire, Rooney, Sturridge. With Caulker, Barkley, Sterling, Henderson, Townsend and Butland on the bench.
*But Terry won’t be picked and is unlikely to accept a place were he offered one anyway.