So we’re now just two days away from the World Cup and four away from England’s opener against Italy in Manaus. The two friendly games played over the last week in Miami served differing purposes but at least one thing remains and that’s that expectations for England’s progression appears to be as low as it’s been for a while.
That’s not to say there’s not a fair share of optimism, excitement and hope around the country – rather the outlook is one based on the fact that we’ve got what many have been clamouring for in a younger squad that may just surprise one or two. I have no idea how the rest of the world views this current England squad but you would imagine that the likes of Italy and Uruguay will be counting a few chickens ahead of their meetings with us over the coming days.
If their managers and scouts have done their homework properly then it’s going to be very tough ask indeed for us to escape this group. But what it does give us, for once, is the sense and feel of an underdog rather than a group of underachieving individuals labelled a ‘golden generation’ but never fully living up to the hype.
It’s got the feel of a pressing of the refresh button for England with Roy Hodgson a more than adequate leader of young men and experienced pros that have been there and done it all before. I’m excited by the prospect of an Adam Lallana, a Raheem Sterling, a Ross Barkley or even – as seen in fantastic flashes against Ecuador – an Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain just going for it and taking the game to the opposition.
The heat and humidity will of course play a part but with questions still remaining about who will indeed start in the three roles behind a locked in Daniel Sturridge there’s a lot more competition for places and if, come the hour mark in games, it’s needed there’s sure to be someone with that burst of energy required waiting on the bench.
The other end of the pitch is more concerning but the defensive showing against Honduras, which saw the back four that will face Italy replace a second string, was much improved. I wonder about Glen Johnson at right back and to a much small extent Leighton Baines on the left and their desire to gun forward but protection from the likely pairing of Liverpool’s Steven Gerard and Jordan Henderson is key. That duo will also be vital in slowing games down in the heat and we got a couple of uneventful but important periods in the Honduras game where ball retention was the tactic in practice.
Whatever happens the focus of the country returns to the England football team from Saturday evening – like it or not, it captures us all in a unique way. Just the other day I was walking through the village I live in and heard three separate groups of people debating outcomes of games, line ups and fears for the team in the space of around half an hour.
Back page news is about to become front page news, players we slated during the league season will be temporarily forgiven and rivalries between club fans go on the back burner. The World Cup is here and though we all dream of England defying the odds, isn’t it great for once to be cheering on a simple outsider?!
As my buddy Joel Sales wonderfully puts in the below World Cup song, my expectations are low…but let’s enjoy it while it lasts…