After unsuccessful tournaments in South Africa in 2010 and Poland/Ukraine two years ago, the critics reigned in on Roy Hodgson's England team. They demanded more flowing football, the embedding of more home-grown talent, imploring the construction of St George's Park to re-enact the development of home-grown Spanish talent.
February's friendly with Denmark and the last few qualifiers, most notably against Montenegro, accentuated the benefits of instilling unstinting faith into youth. The hope was for England to transfer their vibrancy into those matches into their World Cup campaign, but the exuberance offered by Roy Hodgson's younger players is on the verge of relinquishment through injury and viably selection.
Andros Townsend, who contributed richly to England's progression into the World Cup finals, was ruled out on Thursday, the Tottenham winger succumbing to an ankle injury and expected to serve a 10-week spell on the sidelines. His club colleague Kyle Walker, 23, who was touted as serious competition for Glen Johnson, is a doubt with a pelvic problem. Theo Walcott's fate has already been deemed unfortunate, the Arsenal attacker out with a serious knee injury and expected to miss the first few weeks of next season. His Arsenal colleague Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is embroiled in a race to regain full match fitness before England's trip to Manaus on 14 June to face Italy.
The emergence of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw, with the likes of John Stones and Saido Berahino future prospects, accentuated the Football Association's imprudent wooing of Adnan Januzaj, who committed his international future to Belgium. Sterling must start in the Amazon on 14 June. Barkley and Shaw must at least travel to the Copacabana beach. Or Hodgson will have relinquished the energy and vibrancy in his team.
Sterling is able enough to sparkle on the biggest stage of all, at the World Cup, and feature prominently in the tournament's big games, which England hope to be participate in. His impressive displays against Manchester City and Chelsea illustrated his ability to impose himself on matches of great importance and his composed nature, showing wonderful poise to force both Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany to the floor before scoring sumptuously.
Januzaj's rebuffing of the Football Association was beneficial. He moved to England for sporting reasons as a 16 year-old, joining Manchester United from Anderlecht. Instead of naturalising foreign talent, England must nurture their own. The World Cup stage is set for the likes of Sterling, Shaw and Barkley, and for Januzaj in Belgium colours.
With Hodgson searching to create the right blend between experience and youthful exuberance, his unveiling of his squad at Griffin House, Vauxhall headquarters, on 21 May will inevitably be highly intriguing. Shaw, who was voted by fellow professionals as the most impressive left-back of the season, is expected to travel to Rio, where England are based, with Ashley Cole's inclusion or omission set to evoke debate. The 33 year-old impressed in the previous week, contributing richly to Chelsea's shutouts against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool and starting on Wednesday evening.
Experience is key, as is exuberance. England must find the right balance between the two for optimal performance.
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