England's World Cup prospects look bleaker than usual, a grisly group with Italy and Uruguay threatens an early exit. But the evolving side, which isn't as young as some suggest, can at least play with less pressure.
England's young, wild chargers boast a few more gray hairs than the headlines concede. In fact, coach Roy Hodgson's 23-man squad sometimes dubbed "Roy's boys" is a little older on average than Joachim Löw's Germany team.
Inexperience, more than youth, defines this emerging England contingent. Only six members are World Cup veterans, while 16 have competed in 25 or fewer games with Three Lions on their shirts. Raheem Sterling, considered a viable candidate for a starting spot after his strong season with Liverpool, has never played a competitive England game.
This is part of the English FA's efforts - modestly advertised as a 10-year plan, perhaps because change is a slow process in the land of tradition - to usher in a new generation and playing identity after the retirement of some long-standing stars. One of these, David Beckham, has urged coach Hodgson to focus on the future and pick some of the younger hopefuls from the outset in Brazil.
"They're prepared, they're ready for it. You can see the good thing about having young players go into a competition is the fact that they're not scared," Beckham said.
Should anybody in the England camp feel a twinge of fear after all, a quick look at their grisly group might explain why.
Three champions, two berths
Placed 10th in FIFA's rankings list, England should in theory reach the last 16 of a World Cup. Ninth-placed Italy and seventh-placed Uruguay stand in their way this time. Group D is the only one to contain three former World Cup winners - although admittedly two triumphed so long ago that they hoisted the original Coupe Jules-Rimet trophy, before its 1974 disappearance.
To make matters worse, England will open their World Cup against Italy in the heat and humidity of Manaus in the Amazon basin. "The advantage is at least it's against another European team there, rather than a team that would be more accustomed to the climate," Hodgson said. Hence England's last-minute warm-up games: two draws against Ecuador and Honduras, played in Miami in a bid to emulate the weather conditions.
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Next comes Uruguay, spearheaded by the English Premier League's top-scorer this season Luis Suarez, assuming the Liverpool striker's fit in time. Even Costa Rica could pose a threat to the Europeans in Belo Horizonte - but by then, England's tournament could already be over.
"There's no doubt that we've basically got two top seeds in our group," Hodgson said of the draw. "But I'd still put my tenner on us. Why not?"
The reward for the teams that do survive Group D is a comparatively easy path to the quarter-finals. Japan, Greece, the Ivory Coast or Colombia would be the last 16 challenge; all of them easier prospects than Germany, who booted England out 4-1 at the same stage in South Africa four years ago.
The Liverpool links
Despite an unpopular trip to the Amazon basin, it's Liverpool's more modest Mersey river meandering through this year's England squad.
Captain Steven Gerrard, 34, wears the armband at Anfield as well - and suffered heartbreak in the Premiership as his side just fell short of breaking a league drought dating back to 1990. Roy Hodgson coached Liverpool prior to taking the England job.
Even the star man in attack, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, is Liverpool-born. The 29-year-old was still at the city's rival club Everton when he won his England debut in 2003. Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka are two current "Toffees" players in Hodgson's setup, and youngster Ross Barkley has also attracted attention with a handful of strong performances - but he's effectively vying for Rooney's place.
Daniel Sturridge, not Rooney, is perhaps England's biggest hope up front - he scored 21 times for "The Reds" in the Premiership this season and coach Hodgson believes the 24-year-old to be "an out-and-out goalscorer."
Clubmate Jordan Henderson is a realistic option to partner Gerrard in central midfield, while 19-year-old Liverpool attacker Raheem Sterling could start on either flank or even behind the striker, based on his club showings.
"Raheem is a fantastic player," Henderson said of his young mate. "You've seen that in the Premier League and even when he's played for England. He's outstanding. He has no fear."
Defensive fears, hopes for Hart
England's likely back four is not young, but every defender broke into the national team late in their career. In Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Leighton Baines' combined 117 years alive, they have claimed 126 England caps. While effective weapons on the wings, full-backs Baines and Johnson are considered defensively frail. In the middle, neither Jagielka nor Cahill are as confident on the ball as a Mats Hummels, Thiago Silva or Sergio Ramos.
Behind this fragile foursome, England can at least hope for a safe pair of hands. Joe Hart helped Manchester City to the Premiership title, despite a difficult start to the season, and is in good form heading into the competition. He'd better be. Roy Hodgson might have winced to hear that Löw left Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno at home, as he prepared to nominate Ben Foster and Fraser Forster as his Brazil backups.
At the next World Cup in Russia, barring a minor miracle on July 13, England's solitary 1966 World Cup win will be half a century old. Yet the country's 10-year plan for renewal will also be more than half-complete. By then, Roy's boys might bring both youth and international experience to the dance, rather like Löw's lads can now.
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