England's lack of quality shows again

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A national footballing institution and the players involved should usually pride itself and themselves on meritocracy.

To play for your country, the players have earned that right to put on their national team's colours. After all, to play against the top international players in the world, you have to be the best available.

Whether it be in an international friendly or at a major tournament in the summer, a national team should consist of those individuals whose achievements and talents have rewarded them with the opportunity to play on the big stage, shouldn't they?

Despite England's national team becoming somewhat of an inconvenience to those who prefer to focus on club football, the duty of representing your country should not be taken lightly no matter what weight of importance the game has.

Be it a meaningless friendly or the World Cup final, many youngsters would dream of walking onto a football pitch knowing the entire country is behind you. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard all earned their right to represent their country. That's no mean feat, or is it?

Unfortunately, some of the players announced in the side that Roy Hodgson has picked for the upcoming friendly versus hardly warrant a place in their club's first eleven, never mind the national eleven.

Hodgson picked the following 30 players for the Denmark friendly:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Ben Foster, Fraser Forster, John Ruddy

Defenders: Luke Shaw, Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Steven Cauker, Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker

Midfielders: Ross Barkley, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Tom Cleverley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling, James Milner, Frank Lampard, Andros Townsend, Jack Wilshere

Forwards: Jay Rodriguez, Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Rickie Lambert, Danny Welbeck, Jermain Defoe

Hodgson's decisions are disputable. The 66-year-old has chosen four goalkeepers, whilst selecting only three centre backs, for a single friendly. The inclusion of several players from the “bigger” clubs has also been met by heated response from Stoke fans who believe Shawcross should feature, West Ham fans who have made a case for Mark Noble and Andy Carroll and Sunderland who believe Adam Johnson deserves a call-up on recent form.

Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka and Theo Walcott are also noticeable absentees but bar Walcott you would suspect Jagielka and Jones will be chosen ahead of Caulker and perhaps a keeper or a different defender for the World Cup squad.

Walcott’s Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury sustained in January has ruled him out for the World Cup and so highly-rated prospects Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling will undoubtedly be competing to replace him in the 23-man squad considering their form at club level.

To be fair to "Woy", the decisions to call-up youngsters such as Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling and the slightly older Jordan Henderson, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana have been met with unanimous correspondence. Liverpool's

Henderson in particular has improved stratospherically this season and his form has more than merited his selection. He has completed 1,460 passes (85% accuracy) and his defensive abilities have shone too, as he boasts a 73% win percentage of tackles/duels he has been involved in, he's made 141 recoveries of possession and 26 successful interceptions. Offensively, he’s created 49 chances in 27 games, up on his 33 in 30 games in 2012/13.

Meanwhile the Southampton trio of Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Luke Shaw are going from strength to strength and continuing to impress in the Premier League. Lallana, who has seven goals and five assists to his name, has won possession in the attacking third of the pitch more times than any other player in the EPL this season.

Rodriguez, with 10 league goals, makes him Soton's top scorer and England's joint 2nd top scorer alongside Rooney, behind only Daniel Sturridge with 18. One perhaps debatable decision is Rickie Lambert's choice over Andy Carroll but given Carroll's recent return from injury and the likeness of their playing styles, you can understand the preference for Lambert.

This could always change before the World Cup. Some of the squad practically choose themselves. Joe Hart, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney were all essentially dead certs to be in the current England team and you would be surprised if they didn't all travel to Brazil this summer as their mix of experience would benefit the youngsters likely to join them in South America.

On the contrary, the call-ups of Andros “flash in the pan” Townsend, Tom Cleverley and Jermain Defoe are just a few decisions that have been met with fierce criticism on social networking sites.

Unless you've lived under a rock for several months, you will know who Andros Townsend is. Townsend burst onto the scene with an energetic Man of the Match performance on his debut in a 4-1 win over Montenegro. He was so impressive, he left to a standing ovation, but that ovation has since fell flat.

In 17 appearances for Spurs, he has only a single goal to show from 50 shots and zero assists despite attempting 58 crosses and making 22 key passes. His idiosyncratic nature to run at a defender, cut inside and shoot has since been detected by the opposition and his one-dimensional threat can easily be quelled if you constrain his ability to cut inside.

In fact many have made the case that Adam Johnson considering his recent form should have been in the squad. Whether that be at Townsend's expense or not, on the basis of recent form, Johnson’s advocates have a valid reason to be aggrieved not to have seen him feature. Johnson has been quintessential in Sunderland’s improved form with six goals and two assists in his last seven games.

Tom Cleverley is also very limited as a footballer. He acts as a facilitator, his primary role is to move the ball between midfield and attack, and his pass accuracy of 89.6% (935 of 1043 successful passes) means he has the highest accuracy in the entire England squad, but it's hard to see how much more he brings.

He only has one goal to his name, he has only attempted 5 dribbles in 19 appearances for United and he even admitted himself he isn't a tackler. He has operated mainly in a holding midfield role this season for his club, but where would he fit in for England?

Cleverley is dispensable, and that is why his selection is questionable.

There are others who can offer more than him in the England set-up. The Bradford-born midfielder has created just four chances in the league since England's last international game versus Germany on November 19th. This tally is fewer than other English defensive midfielders Tom Huddlestone (20) & Gareth Barry (14). In addition, Cleverley has made significantly less forward passes (635) than Barry (1040), Huddlestone (867) and team-mate Michael Carrick (997).

Whilst Carrick has been included in the squad (and rightly so), Huddlestone and Barry’s omittance has again provoked the “crest on the front is more important the quality of the name on the back” argument A slightly more controversial comment is that Defoe shouldn’t have been chosen.

Had you have said several years ago that Jermain Defoe's selection would cause dispute, you'd likely have been to told where to go, but it has. The diminuitive forward has only played 34 minutes in 2014 ahead of his move to MLS side Toronto FC, so how can he justify a place? As a matter of fact, Defoe has only 243 minutes of Premier League football under his belt since England's 1-0 loss against Germany.

Even ignoring his minor contributions this season, he has scored just two goals from 49 shots in his 28 Premier League appearances since the start of 2013. Kyle Walker and even Glen Johnson, are perhaps questionable selections, with Nathaniel Clyne and Jon Flanagan and a small minority are even suggesting Crystal Palace's Joel Ward should be in with a shout. Johnson has rarely featured due to injuries and has been well out-of-form even when he has, Walker footballing quality is still under question and Clyne has earned plaudits this season, even if he has had to play second-fiddle to fellow-Englishman Calum Chambers at times.

Compare this with Spain's squad which Isco, David Villa and Juan Mata were ommitted from and you can see the Arabian Gulf sized gap in quality between England and their rivals. This is a fine example of why the Three Lions sit 14 places behind La Furia Roja in the FIFA World Rankings (though admittedly the system itself is rather flawed).

Of course, this squad is only for a single friendly, but this is the last time we will get the opportunity to experiment with tactics (Roy, experiment with tactics? Yeah it was always unlikely to happen I know) or introduce any different players into the squad before the World Cup.

The door for those with an outside shot of a place on the plane to Rio Di Janeiro might just have crept shut.

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