FIFA World Cup Column: Sport Reporter Ross McLean previews England's chances in football's showpiece event (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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FIFA World Cup Column: Sport Reporter Ross McLean previews England's chances in football's showpiece event
With one of the greatest showpiece events in world sport getting underway later this week, it would be rude to let it slip by without a word from the Westmorland Gazette’s sport reporter Ross McLean.
MUCH like the Olympic Games, a British and Irish Lions tour, the Ashes, Wimbledon and the Ryder Cup, the FIFA World Cup is one of those events which firmly capture the imagination of the sporting fraternity.
For the next 32 days, football fans will embed themselves in hibernation from reality, with wall to wall coverage across various media platforms allowing only flimsy excuses for ignoring its existence.
A true hibernation it certainly is not and therein lays one of the primary reasons why Roy Hodgson’s England are likely to find it tough going.
The heat and humidity of Brazil will make qualification from the group stages a potentially difficult assignment with England’s technical ability once again likely to come under harsh scrutiny.
However, despite three uninspiring friendly matches against South and Central American opposition paving an inglorious way to the finals, the build up has largely surpassed previous efforts.
Aside from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury and the lacklustre nature of Wayne Rooney, the country has been spared the perennial battle for fitness obsession.
In the past there has been charade and tension although overly exposed player histrionics, wag involvement and childish canned camera stunts have been replaced by general serenity around the camp.
Roy Hodgson’s question and answer session in a Miami burger joint was a masterstroke, simple in both operation and execution but something seemingly beyond past regimes.
The visit to a Rio shanty town is also useful PR and a world away from the reclusive nature of their South African base four years ago.
Previous tournament performances have also invoked a greater sense of realism among fans and media alike with expectations doused, which is perhaps no bad thing.
The majority of progressive football supporters would probably have been in the ball park of the 23 names eventually submitted to FIFA – a group with ability but lacking the household names of the past.
And undoubtedly there are more complete squads out there, indeed England has had better.
Danny Welbeck heads into his second international competition having netted ten top flight goals in two years – between them Robbie Fowler, Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand made three substitute appearances in tournament football for England.
However, throughout British institutions the upward mobility of fresh, young talent is continually blocked by people from an era where length of service counts more than ability.
But that looks to be changing in English football. It would have been easy and safe to pick the likes of Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe over Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana.
Experience of course has a part to play but it is not everything. Witnessing the emergence of young lions might be a brighter spark than many think.
Not weighed down by past failures or expectation, perhaps England’s youthful exuberance combined with a tactical fluidity and encouragement to express can take the nation further than most think.
The new crop might be able to evoke memories of Paul Gascoigne and the Italian summer of 1990, the emergence of Michael Owen in 1998 or Rooney in Portugal six years later.
Other than through a sense of national pride, it is highly doubtful many betting punters will back England with any seriousness but maybe with a longer-term vision in mind, less really can prove to be more.
Tip: Argentina – it is too easy to go for hosts Brazil or holders Spain
Outside bet: Belgium – although golden generation mantras often prove weighty
What about England? Quarter final – Respectable and gives youngsters a platform for Euro 2016
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