Is England really a World Cup contender?

Wayne Rooney, right, will be a key figure for England at the World Cup. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

What to say about England? It’s all a matter of perspective, really. Are they perpetual underachievers, or perpetually deluded about their chances? Are they consistent contenders, or anachronisms that refuse to accept the reality of their place in world soccer’s pecking order? Whatever you think of England, one thing’s for sure—no matter what the result of their Brazilian campaign, short of total victory a great many will see the whole thing as a bitter disappointment.


Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)


Roy Hodgson is an Englishman’s English manager, sure, but not the insular En-ger-lund long-ball stereotype. Highly intelligent and very worldly—he’s managed the Swiss, Emirati and Finnish national teams, and clubs sides from Italy to Scandinavia—Hodgson brings brains and perspective to the England setup

Possible formation

4-2-3-1: (GK) Hart – (D) Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines – (M) Gerrard, Wilshere, Sterling, Rooney, Lallana – (F) Welbeck, Sturridge

Group D schedule

June 14: vs. Italy in Manaus
June 19: vs. Uruguay in Sao Paulo
June 24: vs. Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte

How they qualified

In a group that, while not exactly a Group of Death, certainly offered challenges, the English went undefeated through qualifying to finish top of the table, clear of second-place Ukraine by a single point. What will worry English fans is the team’s away form: aside from the gimme matches against minnows Moldova and San Marino, England drew all of their away games. Though England made up for it with their home form, dropping six points in three away matches against their legitimate rivals in the group left the door open much longer than they would have been comfortable with.

Team strengths

For the first time in a long time, England has got youth on its side. The second-youngest English squad in World Cup history, they’ve got the swagger of players with something to prove. Best of all, that leaves the team (somewhat) unencumbered by the weight of expectation that has crushed past squads. With Hodgson’s guidance and the veteran leadership of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, they have potential.

Team weaknesses

Youth, really. England’s success depends on a whole lot of key players having a breakout tournament in Brazil. There’s a noticeable deficit of World Cup experience in the squad, so it’s hard to tell if they can rise to the occasion.

Players to watch

Jack Wilshere: A gifted playmaker, the midfielder will be a creative hub. He’s also a fierce competitor who plays with little regard for his own safety, making him very fun to watch.
Raheem Sterling: The young Liverpool attacker is a spark plug if ever there was one. His speed, energy and willingness to take defenders on can lift England.
Wayne Rooney: The focus of England’s attack, everyone knows what the Manchester United man can do. But when he’s at his aggressive, powerful best, he can’t be stopped from scoring.

Burning question?

Can Steven Gerrard rise to the occasion? The Liverpool captain is coming off a successful club season, and as always, he’ll have to be influential in midfield for England to succeed. At 34, this is his last chance to lift the World Cup. Can he guide this young team to glory? Probably not.

Prospects in Brazil

In another group, England would be shoo-ins for the knockout round. In this group, nothing is guaranteed—especially since the schedule is the reverse of what Hodgson would want, starting hard and getting easier. After Italy and Uruguay—especially if Luis Suarez makes it back in time—England’s gimme match against Costa Rica could be moot. Doesn’t look good for England to escape the group.

World Cup history

England’s complicated early relationship with FIFA prevented them from entering the first three World Cups, but they’ve entered each since 1950, qualifying for 13. And of course they’ve won once, at home in 1966—and the legends of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore have hung over every squad since. Perhaps none more so than the 2010 squad, who’s 13th-place finish was the worst ever for an England team.

• 1930 to 1938 – Did not enter
• 1950 – First round
• 1954 – Quarterfinals
• 1958 – First round
• 1962 – Quarterfinals
• 1970 – Quarterfinals
• 1974 to 1978 – Did not qualify
• 1982 to 1986 – Quarterfinals
• 1990 – Semifinals (4th place)
• 1994 – Did not qualify
• 1998 – Second round
• 2002 to 2006 – Quarterfinals
• 2010 – Second round

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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