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World Cup Fantasy Preview: England

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Three lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, 48 years of hurt (wow) never stops me dreaming. Can the country who invented the game you love finally win something again?

sniff, sniff hand on heart with tears in my eyes.
sniff, sniff hand on heart with tears in my eyes.
Mike Hewitt

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 (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)

Fantasy players to watch

Leighton Baines

Baines has now forced himself to England's number one and is a safe starter in Brazil.  Well known to us all as an attacking weapon from fullback, we may see less of his driving runs beyond the opposing fullback in the conditions.  However he will rival Rooney and Gerrard for free kick duties, will take some of the corners and may even get a penalty chance. 

Steven Gerrard

He has been England most consistent and best player under Roy.  The heartbeat of the team he will provide everything from assists to open play goals and should be on pens.  Guaranteed starter.  The only concern is the conditions he will play in.  We saw in Euro 2012 he will need to do more legwork for his country than he does for his club.  The result was that he suffered from cramps and you have to assume two years older he may do again.  Having the legs and energy of Henderson alongside will help but it is a consideration.  Simply put if England are doing well you can bet Gerrard has been involved.

Raheem Sterling

Pace frightens the daylights out of every defence and young Sterling is lightning fast.  It seems however at least in game one he will be used as substitute weapon.  It does make sense.  Wait until around the 60th minute with the energy sapping conditions and unleash the blistering runs.  My gut says he may have the impact (without the goals perhaps) of Michael Owen back in 98.  His pace alone will prevent teams pushing their fullbacks too far forward on us.

Wayne Rooney

Ok, England World Cup qualification record goal scorer.  But and here is the big stat, in 8 World Cup games he has never scored.  Without doubt Rooney has not yet fulfilled his potential.  Looking back at Euro 2004 he was devastating.  A player of such promise.  Injuries have often robbed him of a chance for glory.  He takes longer to return to match fitness and sharpness than others and always seems injured coming into the major competitions.  In true form a reoccurring groin injury is the concern this time.  In Fridays friendly against Peru he looked slow and out of sorts.  Unlike Euro 2012 he has others to take the strain of the attacking play .  Therefore there will hopefully be more space for him and the willing young runners will give him options.  The man is due a goal at least and maybe a tournament that matches his quality.

Daniel Sturridge

Now here we have an Englishman with the attitude required.  The guy believes in himself, he tries the fancy trick and has that inventive streak we have not seen in the England side enough the last decade.  Now giving the forward rather than wide role his pace and self-belief excites this England fan. 

Conclusions

England are in transition.  The remainder of the golden generation are having either the last or second to last World Cup.  Now a selection of young fearless English youngsters are coming through.  Of those only Sturridge is guaranteed starter, however the likes of Sterling, Lallana, Barclay, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wiltshire could create an impact from the bench.  They could force their way in to the team as David Beckham and Michael Owen did in 1998. 

There is the least expectancy on the squad in years.  Getting out of the group will be a challenge, a big one.  We look across at the two rival's for progress and see Italy's Mario Balloteli and Uruguay's Luis Suarez of whom we both know well. and fear a little.  Perhaps though, better the devil you know.  Maybe it suits us to face forwards we play every season.  The way the draw has been set up we would fancy our chances of a QF place against either Brazil or Spain if we can qualify.

As you can tell despite everything I am optimistic.  I would be more so should Roy feel bold in picking Lallana and Sterling from the start.  Getting out the group would be a success where I like us to progress through round two with the momentum.  Anything more would get us believing of amazing evenings of glory.

Stall