We’re officially on the 100-day countdown to Brazil, but for me (and many others), we will not feel like we are on the road to the World Cup until after England’s first real preparation friendly against Denmark on Wednesday.
Nobody expects England to lift the trophy, barring the delusional and those who like to act as if we are still expected to go all the way just so they can lump in on the players when they do not.
However, we are right to expect, at minimum, a positive and passionate campaign from our boys that finishes at the hands of a side that are truly the more deserving side, despite a hell of an effort in defeat.
So, what signs do we need to see in the last remaining friendlies until they kick off their tournament against Italy on June 14?
Firstly, if we are to have any hope of a campaign that doesn’t end in abject disappointment, manager Roy Hodgson simply has to stop trying to please everyone with his squad selections.
He has named three left-backs for the Denmark game. Why?
Baines is currently our first-choice left-back, no doubt. We should be including and starting him at every opportunity from now until Brazil in the preparation process.
As far as back-up goes, Roy can either keep faith in Cole doing a job or he can try to blood Shaw in between now and June.
He cannot appease both, though, so he needs to be ruthless and make a choice. Especially if he feels Shaw will be ready in time, because at his current international experience level he will need pitch time in friendlies.
I had a similar situation when I was called up by Bobby Robson to represent England against Albania. Bobby made sure I was involved so that I would have a feel for the World Cup in Italy, rather than just have me tag along so it looked like he wasn’t ignoring my progress at QPR. I had plenty of time to ease into the squad and ended up featuring all the way to the semi-finals.
I would often find myself alongside the likes of Terry Butcher, Des Walker and Stuart Pearce in the England back line during those days. None of them represented what could be considered ‘fashionable’ clubs – and yet it didn’t matter. Our pitch time and our form mattered.
And that’s my other concern with our preparations.
I’ve seen all of the concerns about the criteria for squad selection since last week, and I agree. One of the main reasons older England sides at least looked up for the task, even when it would end at the semi-finals, was that those players truly felt like they had earned their spots and went out to prove that they deserved to keep their spot after the tournament.
But can we really say we feel confident that Jermain Defoe, who doesn’t have a massive track record for scoring important goals in crucial scenarios, is going to do just that from the bench for England at the World Cup – especially as he has pretty much ‘cashed out’ by heading to the MLS and hardly saw any pitch time last year?
Unless Hodgson really starts getting ruthless with who he picks for the Peru, Ecuador and Honduras friendlies and is willing to reward hard work and performances, the only use of those warm-ups will be to get England even more used to the feeling of poor results against teams from South and Central America.
On this current path, I’m sure all of the familiar faces in the England camp will be very happy that they’ve somehow held on to their places and get to play in one more World Cup.
But they will be the only English people enjoying their summer.
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