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England expects once again

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is fighting for a midfield place in England's starting line-up (Pic: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Arsenal's Jack Wilshere is fighting for a midfield place in England's starting line-up (Pic: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Saturday, June 7, 2014
6:00 PM

Hodgson’s young squad excite supporters

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Another World Cup rolls around and, once again, England expects.

But the ‘golden generation’ could not deliver football’s biggest prize at the last four finals, suffering penalty shoot-out heartache against Argentina (1998) and Portugal (2006) and normal-time exits at the hands of Brazil (2002) and Germany (2010).

So why should Roy Hodgson’s youthful squad be expected to come up with the goods this summer?

Expectations are rising because of the flair and exuberance being shown by our young home-grown players in the Premier League, but international duty is a whole different ball game.

Nonetheless, England supporters are approaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with some enthusiasm and Hodgson himself could be deemed to be in a win-win situation.

After their routine 3-0 friendly victory over Peru at Wembley, England were held to a 2-2 draw by Ecuador in Miami and take on Honduras in their final warm-up match before the real action gets underway on June 14.

After facing Italy in their group opener in the tropical rainforests of Manaus, Hodgson’s men do battle with Uruguay and Costa Rica, hoping to do enough to set up a last-16 meeting with Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast or Japan from Group C.

England’s squad includes Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Romford-born Frank Lampard, who is vice-captain to Steven Gerrard at his third World Cup finals and looking to banish the ghosts of four years ago when his ‘goal’ against Germany was ruled out before Fabio Capello’s men slumped to a 4-1 loss.

And Hodgson has also called upon young Arsenal tyros Jack Wilshire and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and north Londoner Raheem Sterling, who has earned rave reviews for his performances with Liverpool.

Former Arsenal winger Perry Groves is excited by the possibilities, saying: “It’s exciting, as an England fan you want to see the younger players given their head for the national team if they’ve proven themselves in the Premier League and they have.

“It depends on which formation Roy Hodgson wants to use, whether it’s 4-2-3-1 or more of a Liverpool formation with Raheem Sterling at the top of a diamond and Steven Gerrard at the base.

“The country will get behind them and Roy has been clever because of the form they have been in.

“The likes of Sterling, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley, if you give them a go and it goes well, you look like a genius. But if not, Roy can say people wanted to see the younger players so he’s in a no-lose situation.”

Wilshere returned from a broken foot, suffered while on England duty in their friendly win over Denmark in March, as a substitute against Peru after coming off the same Wembley bench to help inspire Arsenal to their FA Cup final success over Hull.

And Groves believes he could have a vital role to play in Brazil, if he can rediscover full fitness.

He added: “Jack needs match fitness. He’s had a few injuries, and a serious injury, but he can be explosive over those first five or six yards and moves the ball quickly.

“You look at how long it took Aaron Ramsey to get back from his injury and Jack has been suffering a bit, but he needs games under his belt to get sharper.

“I think he will play with Gerrard against Italy, he can transfer defence into attack quickly.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain is another with the ability to turn a game in the blink of an eye, as he did when England faced Brazil in the Maracana in a friendly last June.

Trailing to a goal by Fred, after Joe Hart had made several fine saves to keep the scoreline blank in the first half, substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain fired home a superb equaliser before Wayne Rooney’s 79th-minute strike threatened a famous win.

Tottenham’s Paulinho levelled soon after, though, as the match ended in a 2-2 draw, but Groves is a big fan of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who recovered from a groin injury sustained in late April only to suffer a knee injury against Ecuador.

“Not only can he play wide, left or right, but he can play central as well,” said Groves.

“With his pace and it being hot in Brazil, you need players with bursts of speed to transfer play from box-to-box.

“He’s got strong pace and he was outstanding in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan. He will probably start off the bench, but he can drive people on.”

Whether Oxlade-Chamberlain recovers from his latest setback remains to be seen. A nation waits with baited breath once more.

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