Winter Break? Wenger, Mourinho and Rio Can’t All be Wrong

Would Steven Gerrard have made his mistake against Uruguay if he'd had a winter break?

Would Steven Gerrard still have made his mistake against Uruguay if he’d had a winter break?

I used to be resolutely against a winter break in English football. I used to think that the Premier League fixtures over the Christmas period were an indispensable part of this country’s football fabric, and I used to think that the benefits of such a break would be minimal.

Then I read Rio Ferdinand’s lengthy article on the subject in his World Cup preview for the Daily Mail. Ferdinand stated that England’s players enter major tournaments at a disadvantage to the other top European nations because they aren’t allowed the time off that their Spanish and German counterparts are during the winter months, despite Premier League matches taking place at a breakneck pace unmatched across world football. When a clearly jaded Steven Gerrard made two uncharacteristic mistakes against Uruguay that led to a defeat terminal to England’s World Cup hopes I finally saw the light – if the England national team is to succeed they must follow the lead of the other top European nations and embrace the polarizing winter break.

English based foreign managers Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have championed the idea of a winter break for years now, with their cries largely falling upon deaf ears. They’ve cited the pace of the Premier League and the lack of time for rest as a key reason why many players tire towards the end of the season, as well as explaining the amount of injuries sustained by players as the summer approaches. A three to four week rest period in either December or January would undoubtedly be viewed favourably by Premier League managers sick and tired of seeing their premier talent struck down by fatigue or worse as the season enters its business end, and unquestionably lead to a fresher squad of England players being available for selection come the start of major tournaments every two years.

Does a winter break have its drawbacks? Yes and no. Premier League football would be missed by supporters of top flight clubs during such a period. However with the Championship, Leagues One and Two plus non-league football all well supported in this country there would still be plenty of football to watch and those lower league teams would stand to benefit from increased attendances and television audiences while the Premier League is on its break. You might also ask where the fixtures from such a break would be reintroduced into the Premier League calendar. It’s a valid concern, but one that could be easily navigated. The season could begin a week earlier, for starters. A Saturday and midweek slate of games would fill two of the three weeks worth of fixtures lost to a winter break; the remaining set of games could be slotted into the schedule at any reasonable point throughout the year. To make things even more convenient F.A Cup replays could be done away with and League Cup Semi-Finals could revert from a two-legged format to a one off tie.  In short, allowances could be made to ensure a winter break fits into the schedule – allowances that are far from radical.

Many people will say we don’t need a winter break, that the problems within English football are far greater than three weeks off in the middle of January. But those people would be ignoring the fact that international football is about pivotal moments and small margins. If it made even a one percent difference to England’s chances in future tournaments it would be a change worth making. A common misconception is that England simply don’t have the talented players other nations do. Costa Rica have just advanced to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil. Bryan Ruiz, their best player, was farmed out on loan by Fulham in January because he couldn’t get in their starting eleven. Fulham were relegated, in case you’d forgotten. Algeria have advanced further than England this summer in Brazil. As have Nigeria. Do either of those teams possess half the talent as a side containing Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard? England failed to win a game this summer because they made crucial mistakes at inopportune moments, not because they lack ability. How many times have you seen Rooney miss a header from a yard out for Manchester United? How many times has Steven Gerrard completely misjudged a header for Liverpool, playing in an opposing striker? These are out of character mistakes from great players, great players who are running on fumes after the demands of yet another intense Premier League season. Give them the rest they deserve, and the rest other European players get, and those kind of mental and physical lapses could become a thing of the past. A winter break would mean only one thing for English football – progress.

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What’s Next for Disgraced Luis Suarez?

Luis Suarez has been banned for nine international matches and from all football for four months

Luis Suarez has been banned for nine international matches and from all football for four months

The first time Luis Suarez bit a player, for Ajax back in 2010, he received a seven match ban. Following his second illegal on-field meal, Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea his victim in 2012, Suarez was suspended for a total of 10 games by the English Football Association. However after his almost unbelievable third biting indiscretion Suarez has had the book really thrown at him by FIFA, the Uruguayan striker receiving a nine game international ban as well as a four month banishment from all football related activities.

With the photographic and video evidence of Suarez’s latest bite of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini indisputable (no matter what the Uruguayan press say) it is almost impossible to defend Suarez’s actions on Monday afternoon or describe the ban handed down to him by FIFA as being too harsh. Suarez will be able to return from his suspension on October 26 later this year, which means in addition to missing the remainder of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil he is likely to be ruled out for a minimum of one League Cup tie for his club side Liverpool, as well as three Champions League group games and nine Premier League clashes. That’s a total of 13 domestic games and at least one international game, depending on whether of not Uruguay progress past the last 16 of the World Cup. Seven games, to 10, to 14. If anything, Suarez can count himself lucky for receiving such a lenient ban after his third offense of the same nature. Imagine this logic being applied in this scenario: you’re caught speeding on the motorway for a third time and instead of receiving an automatic ban from driving for a year you’re allowed to continue driving on the road. The American judicial system also imposes a three strike rule. FIFA? Not so much.

Yet what’s done is done, and Suarez’s ban won’t increase nor decrease for this indiscretion. FIFA have had their say and the Uruguayan FA can only appeal the £60,000 fine Suarez received. What happens next in the Liverpool forward’s career, however, is still up for discussion. One near certainty is that the Uruguayan’s transfer value will decrease markedly. If Liverpool choose to sell him, or Suarez forces a switch himself, he’ll no longer fetch a fee in the region of Gareth Bale’s world record £85 million. More than likely that figure will be near halved, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see either Real Madrid or Barcelona fork out up to £60 million to land Suarez eventually.

But what of the chances Suarez actually departs Anfield this summer? You’d have to assume that both of the Spanish giants, who pride themselves on being morally straight laced, will be put off by Suarez’s record of transgressions. Even with morals thrown totally out of the window the high probability that Suarez will break the rules again in the future and incur another lengthy ban would seem to deter any of his potential suitors. Suarez might just be the ultimate boom or bust commodity in professional sport: on the one hand he is as talented as any footballer on the planet and can win a game in an instant, on the other his next brain lapse could see him banned for an entire season. Will Real or Barca push for a move this summer? Probably not. But if Suarez returns in November and keeps himself out of trouble until January 1 the Spanish vultures could begin to circle Anfield once more.

Liverpool knew full well when they signed Luis Suarez that he had a propensity to break the rules. They reaped the rewards last season when he nearly led the Reds to their first title in two decades. Now they’ll pay the price for this particular genius revealing his darker side once more. The question Brendan Rodgers and co must answer is this: what really is the price of success?

One Sentence World Cup Predictions

Who will lift the World Cup at the Maracana Stadium next month?

Who will lift the World Cup at the Maracana Stadium next month?

After four years of waiting, the day has finally come. Brazil 2014 kicks off tonight with the hosts taking on Croatia in Sao Paulo, which makes today the perfect time for Fred Stanley Sport to offer our predictions for the upcoming tournament. To keep things as simple as possible we’ll list the teams in order of finishing position in each group, with a one sentence recap of their chances in the competition. We’ll also predict the semi-finalists and finalists, plus offer a one sentence take on who will take home the much coveted Golden Boot. After reading what we have to say make sure you’re opinion is heard by commenting, tweeting (@fredjstanley) and voting in our poll. Happy World Cup day!

Group A

Brazil

Confederations Cup winners to shine on home soil, led by wonder-kid Neymar.

Mexico

Familiarity with conditions and good showing four years ago should be enough to help Central American’s edge through.

Croatia

Modric aside, a team on the decline following brief ‘golden era’ under Slavan Bilic.

Cameroon

Not much going on here besides an aging Eto’o and forgotten man Alex Song.

Group B

Spain

Not the force of four years ago but still stocked with an envious array of world class midfielders.

Chile

Tournament dark horses led by Sanchez and Vidal could prosper on home continent.

Netherlands

Handed difficult group Van Gaal’s men will struggle to replicate final appearance from South Africa.

Australia

After a strong cricketing winter could be on the receiving end of a 5-0 scoreline in this group from hell.

Group C

Colombia

Even without Falcao the South American’s could top a relatively easy group.

Japan

Stocked with flamboyant play-makers, should be able to retain possession better than people think in the Brazilian heat.

Ivory Coast

Missed their chance four years ago with Drogba, Kolo Toure and Eboue very much past their peak.

Greece

No repeat of 2004 for this disciplined yet toothless band of aging troops.

Group D

Uruguay

If Suarez is fit then they could be potential finalists should the back four hold up its end of the bargain.

England

Low expectations for a change but still a solid squad with plenty of exciting attacking options.

Italy

Poor form in the build up and a lack of strike options beyond Balotelli could spell doom for 2006 winners.

Costa Rica

Handed a tough draw, little to no chance of picking up a point let alone progressing.

Group E

France

Minus RIbery, Benzema and Pogba to star for a very dangerous side.

Switzerland

Solid side with talented Shaqiri keen to put himself in shop window for big money move from Bayern.

Ecuador

Will battle it out with the Swiss but lack the same defensive resilience and solidarity.

Honduras

Even if Wilson Palacios had 10 brothers capable of playing football they’d struggle to make it out of the Group E cellar.

Group F

Argentina

Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Franco Di Santo make for a fearsome quartet of strikers (in ascending order).

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Premier League stars Begovic and Dzeko could help Bosnia burst onto international scene in their first World Cup.

Nigeria

If John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are your best two players, you’re in trouble.

Iran

It’s unlikely that any Iranians will be snapped up by needy Premier League clubs after the tournament.

Group G

Portugal

If Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t get you, Helder Postiga will!

Germany

Efficient (and typically German) unit could struggle to score goals with Miroslav Klose nearing his 70th birthday (or something like that).

Ghana

Powerful African unit would qualify from a number of other groups.

USA

Not so powerful American unit would qualify from (maybe) a couple of other groups.

Group H

Belgium

Envious collection of talent has everything it needs on paper to seriously contend for the World Cup.

Russia

Like he did with England four years ago, Fabio Capello should be able to steer this squad to a dismal exit in the last 16.

South Korea

With Park Ji Sung now retired from international football PSY is probably the most famous South Korean – unfortunately he doesn’t look like much of a footballer.

Algeria

They couldn’t score against England in 2010 with Matthew Upson at centre back, which doesn’t bode well for any team.

Semi Finals

Brazil over Portugal

Spain over Argentina

Final

Spain over Brazil

Golden Boot

Lionel Messi

After taking advantage of an easy group, Messi could have the Golden Boot wrapped up before the knockout stages have even begun.

 

 

World Cup Preview: Group G

Cristiano Ronaldo will be tasked with leading Portugal's World Cup campaign in Brazil

Cristiano Ronaldo will be tasked with leading Portugal’s World Cup campaign in Brazil

Each World Cup draw tends to throw out a so called “Group of Death”, and the 2014 edition is no different with Group G containing four very strong international sides. Germany, always a threat at any major tournament, are the jewel in Group G’s crown and they’re joined by Ghana, the USA and the Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal. Making it out alive from the group of death will be no easy task and as a result Group G could well be the tightest of the eight World Cup foursomes.

Germany

Best Finish – Winners (1954, 1974, 1990)

Odds – 13/2

Germany surprised many observers four years ago in South Africa when their band of young, unheralded players took the tournament by storm and helped the country outperform modest expectations. The Germans won’t be taking anyone by surprise in Brazil, however, as those youngsters have matured into some of the finest and most recognisable players in the world. Phillip Lahm leads the Germany side and the full-back has developed his technical game to such an extent that Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has often used him in a deep-lying midfield role. With the likes of Thomas Muller and Arsenal play-maker Mesut Ozil operating in more advanced positions Germany have all the bases covered – which could be ominous for the other nations in Group G and elsewhere.

Portugal

Best Finish – Third Place (1966)

Odds – 28/1

It’s no secret who Portugal’s main man is heading into the World Cup. Yet despite it being common knowledge that Cristiano Ronaldo is the focal point of his side’s attack, stopping the Real Madrid forward is easier said than done. Ronaldo is a threat from anywhere on the pitch thanks to his incredible leaping ability and his ferocious strike, making him dangerous not just from open play but also from set-pieces in and around the penalty area. The rest of the Portugal squad is talented if a little past its peak – Helder Postiga for example left Tottenham Hostpur after a failed stint almost a decade ago, while midfielder Raul Meireles will be familiar with English football fans after spells with Liverpool and Chelsea. Nonetheless Portugal will be a major threat at the World Cup if that man Ronaldo is on top of his game. The rest of the squad still have a job to do, of course, but with Ronaldo at his imperious best Portugal are a proposition no team wants to have to deal with.

Ghana

Best Finish – Quarter Finals (2010)

Odds – 200/1

Ghana’s best finish at a World Cup may have been the quarter finals four years ago, but many of you will vividly remember Luis Suarez’s handball which robbed the African nation of a semi-final berth in South Africa. The pick of the African teams in 2010, Ghana will look to repeat the trick in Brazil although they’ll have to navigate the toughest group in the competition. AC Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari is the driving force in the Ghana engine room and combined with Michael Essien the African’s have plenty of power in the middle of the pitch. If former Sunderland striker and national captain Asamoah Gyan can put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis then Ghana could be a team to look out for once more in Brazil – potentially at the expense of the more fancied Germany or Portugal.

USA

Best Finish – Third Place (1930)

Odds – 150/1

After a moderately successful World Cup in 2010 the United States would gladly take a repeat of their last 16 finish this summer in Brazil. Former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann is the man tasked with getting the best out of this USA squad, although he has come in for a fair amount of criticism for his decision to drop accomplished forward Landon Donovan. With Donovan absent former Fulham and Tottenham midfielder Clint Dempsey will be tasked with scoring the goals to take the USA through to the knockout stages once more, with Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore another option in attack for Klinsmann. The United States will likely be difficult to break down and if Dempsey and Altidore can put their Premier League pedigree to good effect their chances of progressing from Group G may not be as slim as they appear.

Fixtures

Germany v Portugal – 16th June, Salvador (17.00 GMT)

Ghana v USA – 16th June, Natal (23.00 GMT)

Germany v Ghana – 21st June, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)

USA v Portugal – 22nd June, Manaus (23.00 GMT)

USA v Germany – 26th June, Recife (17.00 GMT)

Portugal v Ghana – 26th June, Brasilia (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will progress from this summer’s “Group of Death”?  Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Portugal to a first World Cup triumph? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

World Cup Preview: Group F

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In keeping with football’s reputation as the global game, Group F throws together four teams from four different continents. South Americans Argentina are the clear favourites and with Lionel Messi looking to finally make an impact at a World Cup the men in powder blue and white could be dangerous on Brazilian soil. Nigeria represent Africa in Group F, while Europeans Bosnia & Herzegovina and Asia’s Iran make up the four teams who will battle it out to make it through to the knockout stages.

Argentina

Best Finish – Winners (1978, 1986)

Odds – 4/1

Is this the tournament where Lionel Messi finally shines on the international scene to the same extreme that he’s done throughout his decorated club career? As good as the rest of the Argentina squad are, and they’re good enough to be able to leave Carlos Tevez at home, the South American’s ability to win the World Cup will almost certainly hinge on the form of the little maestro Messi. His fellow countryman Diego Maradona once led the Argentines to the trophy almost single-handedly and if Messi wants to be placed in the same pantheon of player then an other-worldly tournament is essential.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Best Finish – First Appearance

Odds – 150/1

Bosnia & Herzegovina make their first appearance at a World Cup finals in Brazil, and the Eastern Europeans stand an excellent chance of making it out of their group at the first attempt. The nation was created when it split from Yugoslavia back in the early 1990’s and it finally gets the chance to make an impression on the global stage after a couple of near misses in qualification over the past decade or so. Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko is the star man for Bosnia and his record of 35 goals for the national team is an impressive haul from just 62 games. Dzeko’s prowess in the air makes him a difficult target to defend and if he can trouble the scorers in Brazil this month Bosnia might just make it out of Group F alongside Argentina.

Iran

Best Finish – First Round (1978, 1998, 2006)

Odds – 2500/1

Iran make a return to the World Cup stage after an absence of eight years, although they’ll know that realistically they stand little to no chance of progressing to the last 16 – something they have also failed to do in their past three appearances at the finals. Iran are led by former Real Madrid manager and Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz and the Portuguese’s experience will be of great benefit to his relatively inexperienced squad. On the playing side of things 33-year old captain Javad Nekounam will attempt to lead from the front, the midfielder having accumulated an incredible 140 caps for his country during his career.

Nigeria

Best Finish – Last 16 (1994, 1998)

Odds – 250/1

This isn’t the first time Nigeria have been paired with Argentina in a World Cup group; some of you will recall 2002 when the pair were joined by England and Sweden in that year’s infamous “Group of Death” in Japan and South Korea. Nigeria failed to qualify from that group and with an arguably weaker squad 12 years on they could struggle to make the knockout stages once again in Brazil. Nigeria have a heavy presence in the Premier League and Stoke City’s Peter Odemwingie will attempt to lead the line and build on his 61 caps and 10 goals for his country. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are also recognisable names but Nigeria lack the star power of fellow African nations such as Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, so it figures that they’ll rely more on teamwork than individual quality this summer.

Fixtures

Argentina v Bosnia – 15th June, Rio De Janeiro (23.00 GMT)

Iran v Nigeria – 16th June, Curitiba (20.00 GMT)

Argentina v Iran – 21st June, Belo Horizonte (17.00 GMT)

Nigeria v Bosnia – 21st June, Cuiaba (23.00 GMT)

Nigeria v Argentina – 25th June, Porto Alegre (17.00 GMT)

Bosnia v Iran – 25th June, Salvador (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will make it out of Group F? Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to a World Cup win? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

World Cup Preview: Group E

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As is usually the case, the draw for the 2014 World Cup produced some groups that were tougher than others. Fortunately for 1998 winners France, they’ve been handed one of the easier draws (on paper at any rate) as far as the major nations are concerned and they’ll compete in Group E alongside Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland. While France have a track record of failing to live up to expectations in recent years, see the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, they’ll be expected to progress to the last 16 with relative ease in Brazil while the other three countries battle it out to take second place.

Switzerland

Best Finish – Quarter Finals (1934, 1938, 1954)

Odds – 100/1

The Swiss enter the 2014 World Cup with hopes of making it out of Group E, a realistic aim owing to both the relatively poor quality of teams in the group and the ability of a few individuals within their own squad. A shock 1-0 win against eventual winners Spain was the high point of their campaign in 2010, thereafter they failed to win a match and wouldn’t qualify for the last 16. They were in the same group as Honduras four years ago and their failure to beat to Central American side was a deciding factor in their inability to make the knockout stages, so Switzerland will no doubt be on the lookout for revenge in Brazil. Promising Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri should be the focal point of the Swiss attack, but he’ll be ably supported by veterans Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler in midfield.

Ecuador

Best Finish – Last 16 (2006)

Odds – 150/1

In Brazil an Antonio Valencia led Ecuador side will attempt to equal their best performance at a World Cup, which came in 2006 when a David Beckham free-kick eliminated them in the second round in Germany. However the Manchester United midfielder aside Ecuador lack pedigree and recognisable talent, though some Manchester City fans will recall striker Felipe Caicedo’s name from his stint with the citizens. Their familiarity with South American conditions will help them, but it would nonetheless be a fantastic effort from Ecuador if they’re able to make it out of the group. Stranger things may have happened and it could come down to a straight shootout between them and Switzerland – nonetheless a last 16 place would appear to be the Ecuadorians ceiling this summer.

France

Best Finish – Winners (1998)

Odds – 150/1

Can France make it out of the group stages in Brazil, as they failed to do in South Africa four years ago? That time around Les Bleus infamously imploded from within, with captain Patrice Evra leading a players revolt following the dismissal of Nicolas Anelka by team management. With 1998 hero Didier Deschamps now in charge it’s hoped the playing squad will be able to concentrate their efforts on performing on the pitch and make a comfortable progression to the last 16. However with Bayern Munich star Frank Ribery out of the tournament through injury Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba will be asked to star in his first appearance on the World Cup stage, something the former Manchester United man is more than capable of judging by his displays in Serie A last season. France may have had a far from ideal build up to the competition but make no mistake about it – if Deschamps can get the squad singing from the same hymn sheet then Les Blues could be the dark horses of Brazil 2014.

Honduras

Best Finish – Group Stages (1982, 2010)

Odds – 2500/1

One of the true outsiders heading to Brazil, Honduras have little to no chance of qualifying even from the relatively ‘easy’ Group E. Their 0-0 draw against England in a pre-tournament friendly demonstrated the Hondurans defensive resilience but their inability to trouble the back of the net is well documented and it’s difficult seeing them scoring enough goals to threaten Switzerland or Ecuador as they compete to make it through to the last 16 later this month. Wilson Palacios, of Tottenham, Stoke and Wigan fame is the lynchpin of the Honduras side and he’s joined by his brothers Jerry and Johnny in the squad. Palacios is a steely midfielder who offers sterling protection to the back four, something they’ll need particularly in the showdown with France in Honduras’s opening game on June 15.

Fixtures

Switzerland v Ecuador – 15th June, Brasilia (17.00 GMT)

France v Honduras – 15th June, Porto Alegre (20.00 GMT)

Switzerland v France – 20th June, Salvador (20.00 GMT)

Honduras v Ecuador – 20th June, Curitiba (23.00 GMT)

Honduras v Switzerland – 25th June, Manaus (21.00 GMT)

Ecuador v France – 25th June, Rio De Janeiro (21.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group E in Brazil? Will France challenge for the World Cup crown? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

 

 

World Cup Preview: Group D

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The fourth World Cup group to be previewed here at Fred Stanley Sport is Group D, which of course features England as they attempt to add a second World Cup crown 48 years after securing their first. Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica will attempt to thwart Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions, however, and Group D promises to be fiercely competitive later this month in Brazil.

Uruguay

Best Finish – Winners (1930, 1950)

Odds – 33/1

Two-time winners Uruguay will be confident of emulating their effort in South Africa four years ago, when they somewhat controversially reached the semi-finals after Luis Suarez‘s infamous handball against Ghana cost the Africa side dearly. The Liverpool striker will hope to make the headlines for all the right reasons in Brazil, however, and after the season he enjoyed for the Reds he’s in prime position to make a positive impact on the biggest stage of all. Although he’s currently recovering from a knee injury Suarez is expected to be fully fit for the start of the tournament, which would be a huge boost to a Uruguay strike force that also includes Edison Cavani. The South Americans may not be as strong in defense as they are up top but make no mistake about it – they’re one of the teams to watch this summer.

Costa Rica

Best Finish – Last 16 (1990)

Odds – 4000/1

Costa Rica are rank outsiders for the competition, returning to the World Cup stage after an eight year absence. While their 2006 vintage contained legendary striker Paulo Wanchope, of Derby County and West Ham United fame, the current edition features former Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell. While they form a less formidable front line than Uruguay, for example, the duo have the potential to cause some hiccups to the three more established teams in Group D. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Costa Ricans will have in Brazil doesn’t concern talent, but their familiarity with the South American heat and humidity.

England

Best Finish – Winners (1966)

Odds – 28/1

Can England finally end their wait for a major trophy in Brazil? Probably not, but Roy Hodgson’s decision to select a youthful looking squad was a bold one and at least means it won’t be the usual suspects who fail to come back holding a trophy. The squad are currently acclimatising to conditions in Miami, where they’ll play two final warm-up games before heading south for Rio before their first game in Manaus against Italy. If the Three Lions are to get off to a flyer in the jungle they’ll surely need Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney to fire on all cylinders, something he has failed to do of late for both club and country. However talk of dropping the former Everton man has been premature, and while Daniel Sturridge may have been more prolific thus far in 2014 it’s Rooney who has the international pedigree that has helped make him an integral part of the national set-up for over a decade now.

Italy

Best Finish – Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

Odds – 25/1

The Azzuri head to Brazil in search of a fifth World Cup crown, though they’ll find it challenging just to make it out of Group D having been dealt a tough hand in December’s draw. A strong showing at Euro 2012 should give the Italians hope; however that successful campaign was achieved in the relatively cool climes of Eastern Europe, a far cry from the South American sauna that will await them later this month. Andrea Pirlo was the star of the show for Italy two years ago and the Juventus playmaker’s relaxed style of play could suit the Brazilian conditions more than most, and if the Azzuri are to enjoy another successful World Cup they’ll need Pirlo to be at his supreme, casual best.

Fixtures

Uruguay v Costa Rica – June 14, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)

England v Italy – June 14, Manaus (23.00 GMT)

Uruguay v England – June 19, Sao Paulo (20.00 GMT)

Italy v Costa Rica – June 20, Recife (17.00 GMT)

Italy v Uruguay – June 24, Natal (17.00 GMT)

Costa Rica v England – June 24, Belo Horizonte (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group D in Brazil? And can England win the World Cup under Roy Hodgson? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley