Por favor, não uma disputa de pênaltis! (Please, not a penalty shootout!) Might as well start practicing the Portuguese now, right? It was a nervy night on Tuesday but finally, England are on their way to Brazil. The second home of football. The country which has produced some of the greatest stars the World Cup has ever seen, the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Pele just to name a few. Now the Three Lions come up against the latest stars of A Seleção and the rest of the entrants in their quest to end a soon to be 48-year wait of national triumph.
With qualification now secure, the question is, who does Roy Hodgson select to be in his side for the Brazil finals?
The likes of Captain Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart are certainties with others such as Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge likely to be called up as well. Outside of a few positions, the squad will pick itself and will not look too dissimilar to the ones which have earned qualification to Brazil. The chance of surprise will come from the amount of youngsters Roy Hodgson will choose to take to Brazil.
The England manager stated in his press conference that he will rely on established players at the tournament but will leave room for some young players who have the rest of the season to “prove themselves.”
“I think at the moment there is a very good group of players,” said Hodgson. “I suppose it’s going to be interesting in the next six months to see which of these under-21 players really mount a challenge.”
It’s clear that Roy will have a tough decision on his hands when it comes to May but who, if any, of these youngsters, should he consider first?
1. Jack Wilshere
Seen as the future of England and Arsenal, Wilshere has had a tough couple of years in football. The Arsenal youngster came off the high of a fantastic 2010/11 season, bagging the PFA young player of the year award in the process, looking to cement himself into the England squad. An injury picked up during pre-season would see him miss the entire 2011/12 football campaign as well as the start of the 2012/13 season and he has looked a bit jaded ever since. It’s quite clear the issue with Wilshere is fitness, but when he is fit, he should be one of the first names in Hodgson’s squad. His ability to control the tempo of a game and break down opposition with neat little passes is an asset that any team would desire (par Spain) and is something England desperately lack in abundance. If fit and firing for Arsenal, Wilshere should be called up to the squad.
2. Andros Townsend
Given that Roy Hodgson will probably select between 4-6 wingers you’d think Andros Townsend’s brilliant cameo at the end of England’s qualifying campaign has done enough to earn him place on the plane. The Tottenham winger has just signed a new four-year contract with his club and will probably become a key player for Spurs in their quest for a Champions League place this season. If he’s able to replicate his recent performances for the duration of the season, he is a sure bet to be in Brazil.
3. Ross Barkley
Much was said when Roberto Martinez let Marouane Fellaini go to Manchester United on deadline day but it seems all has been forgotten with the emergence of talented youngster Ross Barkley. The Everton Academy graduate has been in fine form for his club with two superb goals to go with his man of the match performances. Midfield is an area that England are spoilt in with Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick and Wilshere among others but Barkley should not be overlooked. He has proved against the big teams this season; Man City and Chelsea, that he can battle with the best in that position and would give England pace in the centre of the park, something they lack from those named above. Again, his performances will tell at the end of the season whether he warrants a place in the squad but he is definitely in for a shout.
4. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Although currently injured, Chamberlain would prove to be a great wildcard for England to have in the team. The Arsenal youngster showed he had the ability to handle a major tournament in 2012 and was one of the standout players for England in a dire campaign. His goal in Maracanã in the friendly against Brazil last summer was just a peek into what he is capable of bringing to the table. He has a massive task on his hands to make it though, with his first challenge being getting fit as soon as possible. He then has the daunting task of breaking into an Arsenal squad firing on all cylinders and already keeping his compatriot Wilshere out of the midfield. Still, should be one to look out for if he is able to hit the ground running.
5. Wilfred Zaha
Probably the most disagreeable of the five selections, Zaha is a player that could potentially be a game-changer. Zaha, along with Townsend, is one of the few players England have who is capable of taking players on and delivering a cross or cutting inside and shooting. Capable of playing anywhere across the front-line, Zaha last season carried Crystal Palace to the Premier League and therefore earned himself a transfer to champions Manchester United. He has failed to make an appearance in the Premier League yet for David Moyes’ side and, although fit, looks to have been left in the wilderness. No one really knows the reasons to leaving Zaha out but things must change if he is even to have a slight chance of making Brazil. The winger needs to move in January or break into the squad as soon as to give Roy Hodgson a selection headache.
Honourary mentions to Jordan Henderson, Luke Shaw, Ravel Morrison and Saido Berahino.
Do you agree with these selections? Who are your top 5 English youngsters to take to the World Cup? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.
Image: William Brawley / Flickr