As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.
For this interview, focusing on England, we spoke with Simon Peach, Sports Journalist with the Press Association. Follow him on twitter @SimonPeach.
With below-par performances at International level and in recent major tournaments, there isn’t much talk of this actually being England’s year. Could that lack of expectation & belief actually work in the side’s favour?
It certainly will not do them any harm. England fans have become so used to being let-down by the national team at major tournaments that it has practically become a given. The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ ensured that, as did the inability of high-profile foreign managers to succeed. Now, England head to Brazil with an exciting-looking squad with the pressure off. You have a smattering of youthful exuberance to complement the wily old-timers, with an experienced man at the helm in Roy Hodgson. It will not be easy but they could surprise.
Despite naming plenty of youngsters in their 23-man squad for the World Cup, are England still depending excessively on the experience of Steven Gerrard & Wayne Rooney?
I would not say excessively, no, especially when it comes to Rooney. Ever since bursting onto the scene at Euro 2004, he has not managed to impress at a major international tournament. In fact, he has never scored at a World Cup but I fully expect him to break that duck this time as the pressure to score will be spread. The fact that Messrs Sturridge, Sterling and Lallana are in support will offer England alternative attacking skill, directness and goals, which may well allow Rooney to flourish.
To Hodgson’s credit, he has tried to alter his approach to games shifting from a pragmatic system, although not entirely successfully. But the side are still guilty of those hopeful long balls from the back when plan A fails to work. Do you see this and Hodgson’s tactics in general being an issue? How confident can one be going into a World Cup with the 66-year-old in charge?
Roy is not as conservative as he is sometimes portrayed, epitomised by the exciting squad he selected for the tournament. I feel confident England can enjoy a successful tournament as the blend appears right. Furthermore, we are going into the tournament with someone who has managed at a World Cup before. Yes, it was only Switzerland and, yes, it was a long time ago, but he will have learned a lot from that.
As always, there are concerns about England’s squad. Cahill & Jagielka though, form a rock solid partnership. But with Hodgson opting for a deeper defensive line, and Gerrard not the most defensively astute holding midfielder, will England be excessively short in between the lines?
Much will depend on the player that plays alongside Gerrard. At Liverpool, the energy of Jordan Henderson allowed him to flourish in that kind of quarter-back role. England have several players, as well as of course Henderson, that can do the same. I am more concerned about the strength in depth England possess at centre-back.
We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Our focus is on Raheem Sterling. Will the Liverpool teenager play a significant part at the tournament, or will he be used primarily off the bench?
Given his form with Liverpool, it would be foolish not to utilise him. He may still only be 19 but he has matured markedly of late. Sterling’s attitude and aptitude is much improved, with his skill and speed offering England an exciting wide option. With Theo Walcott out injured, he may well be thrown in at the deep end and I fully expect him to shine.
Adam Lallana, like Sterling, has had a tremendous campaign. But he hasn’t settled into Roy’s system and is unlikely to be anything more than a bit-part player. Doesn’t the Southampton campaign deserve a place in the starting eleven on merit. Will he make an impact?
I don’t think that is right. Lallana has not had the time to settle – he has only made three senior appearances to date. In each of those he has excited with his nimble footwork and creativity. In England’s friendly against Denmark, his introduction turned a stalemate into a victory with his cross to Daniel Sturridge. I have watched Lallana closely for years and his development this term has been remarkable.
England are usually more than capable of getting past the group stage, before faltering against a stronger opponent. But 2014 sees them face arguably two of the contenders for the World Cup. While expectations are low, how badly will it hit the players, management, fans and indeed the media if England faltered at the first stage?
Of course it will be a big blow, a huge blow on paper. That said, it depends on the manner of the exit. The farce that was South Africa was exacerbated by the way in which England exited to Germany in the second round. However, if England play attractive football with a focus on youth and just fall short to Italy and Uruguay, then of course it will be seen more positively.