Every World Cup throws up a surprise. A team that’s not expected to do anything, who ends up going far. In recent competitions, Croatia, Bulgaria and Uruguay have all had sparkling campaigns. In 2010 I picked Mexico as a potential dark horse. Which was, in hindsight, a bit silly of me. No, silly is unkind. I was simply overly optimistic about the chances of my adopted home.
a : a usually little known contender (as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing
b : an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed
Who could it be this time? There are a few candidates. But in the last few weeks, one nation has struck me as having real potential to surprise the world. That nation? Well, England. Could a case of over optimism be about to strike again? Possibly. I will admit that the closer to kick off we get, and it is just a week away now, then the more one is afflicted by irrational thoughts, hopes and belief. It’s called World Cup fever.
But hear me out nonetheless. I do have a certain amount of rational reasoning here. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll win the trophy, but a good showing could be on the cards. Unlike most tournaments, when the England squad is sent off to the host nation on a crest of euphoria, with the nation convinced that this will be our time, we have absolutely no expectation this time round that we’ll even get out of our group. We definitely qualify as a dark horse under part b of the description above.
However, Roy Hodgson has gone against what virtually everyone believed he would do. He has cast aside a string of traditional 30 something starters and picked a squad full of young players. It’s the second youngest squad England have ever sent for
slaughter a victorious campaign. There’s little experience there. That’s fine. There’s little taint of failure of previous tournaments either. There’s plenty of pace and energy. And anyone who says England can’t hit the target, clearly weren’t watching the game against Peru last Friday.
We’re going to play in the jungle first game against Italy and it will be a young guy’s game. Hodgson can make the most of Liverpool’s star players at the core of his team. Gerrard, Johnson, Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have had a fine season. Paul Scholes has it dead right when he says we should play like Liverpool. Unlike most World Cup’s, there’s no expectation, no hype, no last minute injury concerns. We have a few important players. Joe Hart, the goalkeeper, for one. Other players can make mistakes, but the goalkeeper can’t. Well, they can. But it’s ever so costly.
But the key lies with our forward players. Daniel Sturridge seems to have gotten into the goal per game knack at just the right time. In Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Sterling we have wide players with pace who can go past people and create chances. And in Wilshire we have a player with a genuinely high level of technique and movement.
Whether or not I am suffering from World Cup fever is beside the point. There are plenty of reasons to have a lot more hope and belief than we had six months ago. I have my fingers crossed. We are, on paper, the third best team in our group of four. Only the top two qualify, so by rights, it should be a short ride for England fans. But truth be told, there’s not a lot between Englan, Italy an Uruguay. It’ll be a fascinating set of matches. And hopefully the springboard for England’s path to glory…