World Cup profiles: England

Steven McBain Roar Guru

By Steven McBain, Steven McBain is a Roar Guru

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    Wayne Rooney for England. (AFP)

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    As any self respecting Scotsman that has lived previously in London knows, we are only about a month or so away from the red top tabloids beginning to trumpet England’s prospects of winning the World Cup.

    World in Motion by New Order and Skinner and Baddiel will be all over the radio and Sportsweek will interview Sir Geoff Hirst and Peter Shilton constantly.

    However, for the first time since England failed to qualify in 1994 there does appear to be far more realism about just how limited this current England squad is. So just how far can they go?

    To kick off, England have a tough group and will probably have to beat one of either Uruguay or Italy to qualify if one is to assume that Costa Rica will be the whipping boys. My very own Scotland were famously beaten by Costa Rica 1-0 at the 1990 World Cup but one would think England should be good enough to avoid that fate.

    In the recent past, England have had many fine players, the likes of Shearer, Ferdinand, Scholes, Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville and Michael Owen in his pomp would grace many teams at the highest level. So how good is the current crop?

    Goalkeepers
    Should Joe Hart be fit and re-find his best form then England have a fine top class keeper the equal of most at the tournament. Should however he continue to impersonate one of the Chuckle Brothers then England have a serious problem as none of the back up keepers are proven nor of the required calibre.

    Fullbacks
    England must be wishing that either Leighton Baines or Ashley Cole were right footed and could play in tandem on the left and right. Cole has been one of the few truly world-class players that England possess but he is coming to the end and even Jose Mourinho seems to have lost a little faith.

    Baines is a wonderful attacking option with his crossing and dead ball striking but he is suspect against the very best defensively. It doesn’t always show up in the Premiership but he was found wanting in England’s recent friendly defeat. Regardless, Hodgson has far bigger issues and left back will not be of paramount concern.

    At right back, both Glenn Johnson and Kyle Walker are substandard defensively and will be in for a tough time against the better sides as their positional play is simply not good enough. Johnson will probably get the nod for the starting berth but it is a problem area for England.

    Centre back
    Hodgson’s preferred pairing appears to be Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka. Both are good solid Premiership defenders but the reality is they are a level down from the likes of Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand in their prime.

    Cahill has definitely benefitted from moving to Chelsea and playing in the Champions League but one would fear for this pairing against the pace and movement of the very best attacking players.

    While used all over the pitch for United, I firmly believe that Phil Jones’ best position is at centre back and I think he will develop into a fine one.

    Whether he has enough experience (and fitness) to play for England regularly there yet is questionable however. His versatility will probably mean he remains a good bench option for Hodgson in Brazil.

    Central midfield
    In the past, England have had a plethora of great central midfielders, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and the problem for the past decade has simply been trying to get the right blend.

    Gerrard and Lampard remain but they are fading forces although Gerrard can still contribute fully this Summer. Lampard may have to make do with coming off the bench to try to rescue games for England.

    Jack Wilshire remains an enigma with his place in the centre for Arsenal even being in jeopardy this season. His injury problems have been horrendous and for the time being it seems that both Wenger and Hodgson have lost some faith in him. A fit and firing Wilshire would be a huge plus for England this Summer.

    Michael Carrick had a fine season for United last year but he has had injury problems again this season. If England were to play a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 then he would be a fine choice for a holding role. He is not the most glamorous of players but his teammates always value his contribution.

    A lack of mobility against passing and movement leaves him vulnerable defensively however.

    I have to say I am not a fan of either James Milner or Tom Cleverley and like Carrick, when they are playing top class players with top class movement, they are left as passengers with a slight resemblance to wheelie bins in white shirts.

    Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley both appear to be making late runs at the squad along with Adam Lallana. Of the three only Barkley to me appears to have the potential to influence a World Cup game at the sharp end of things and should be worth a gamble.

    Gascoigne made a late run at Italia ’90 and came a hair’s breadth from inspiring England into the final.

    Wide/attacking players
    While it is not entirely clear what formation Hodgson will employ, he does have options further up the pitch.

    Andros Townsend for the record is not yet a world beater. He has a lot of potential but he is not England’s saviour regardless of what the red tops would have you believe. His recent performances for Spurs have been fairly mediocre. If expectations are managed, he could contribute well for England this Summer however.

    Jay Rodriguez for me does not look top class although he is undoubtedly a good player. Aaron Lennon may be an interesting option if he is fit and while he can be woefully wasteful he can also terrorise teams with his pace and he has an uncanny knack of often bringing balance to a team with his natural width. May be another good option off the bench.

    Another player who will certainly come in to contention is Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. He has been a favourite of Hodgson in the past and should he get himself fit he could certainly find himself in the reckoning for one of the wide berths.

    He is another quick and direct player.

    Theo Walcott has sadly been ruled out of the tournament – he appears to have some kind of World Cup curse – but in Daniel Sturridge and Danny Wellbeck, Hodgson has two young strikers who offer movement, pace, flexibility and goals.

    Ashley Young’s poor club form would appear to rule him out of the starting reckoning for England but his United teammate Wayne Rooney will again be England’s talisman this Summer. Since his initial burst in Portugal 2004, Rooney has failed to fire at a major tournament with either injury, loss of form through being in poor condition or simply England not qualifying to blame.

    Rooney has no doubt had a fine career but if he really wants to be remembered as a great and not just someone who earned 300K a week then Brazil is the time for him to finally produce the goods. We have seen in the past that a single player can inspire an otherwise average team and much of England’s hopes could rest on England’s premier granny fancier.

    My own view is that England could qualify from their group but it will be tough. Uruguay are not for me an elite team but they are playing on their own continent and Cavani and Suarez will a formidable pair to play against. Chile showed up England’s deficiencies badly recently and Uruguay will be a tough test.

    England must focus on beating both them and Costa Rica as Italy will be tough opposition and England have a poor record against them.

    If England do get through the group then I feel unfortunately that they will simply be left waiting for one of the better teams to put them out of their inevitable misery. I simply don’t see England as in any way capable of challenging for the tournament this time around and a quarter final berth would be an amazing achievement in my view.

    In terms of the formation that Hodgson should employ I would urge him to employ a system that allows some fluidity for the attacking players and some protection for the central defenders. Looking at the players that England have, either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 looks best to me. I would have Hart in goal, a back four of Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill and either Cole or Baines depending on who looks best come June.

    In front of them I would employ two sitting players, one of whom would be a more disciplined and less leggy Steven Gerrard. The other would be one of either Carrick, Phil Jones (if you were feeling ultra defensive and were facing a Messi etc) or possibly Jack Wilshire in a deep lying playmaker role.

    With the exception of Ashley Cole, none of England’s fullbacks are overly defence minded so two holding players would assist in allowing them to bomb forwards.

    Playing in a more free central role (hence it’s either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 depending on how far up that player pushes, the latter system possibly requiring the wide players to do more defensive work) I would either have Wilshire (if not in the deep lying role obviously) or possibly Ross Barkley if his form continues for Everton.

    You could alternatively push Gerrard further forward, the whole point of the system being the players are interchangeable while offering protection for a back four that may require it with the two holding players at all times.

    I’d then have a front three of Sturridge and Wellbeck offering wide support to Wayne Rooney. The two of them or maybe even the three of them being interchangeable. The likes of Aaron Lennon, Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Andros Townsend provide a more ‘midfield’ option in the wider positions depending on the nature of the game and opposition.

    England over the years have become far too rigid since Glenn Hoddle left his post. All the top teams are employing fluid fast moving systems and with the likes of Barkley, Wilshire, Sturridge, Wellbeck, Rooney, Lennon and Townsend they have quick, attack minded and mobile players, England must play to what strengths they have.

    As mentioned, England could get out of their group but to do so they will almost certainly have to beat Costa Rica and Uruguay or get one hell of a result against Italy.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • January 12th 2014 @ 6:29am
      dylaneloi said | January 12th 2014 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      Interesting read and I have to agree with you in England should be grateful if they make it to the quarters. But you never no, Spain’s winning streak came from no where hahaha

      • Roar Guru

        January 12th 2014 @ 11:15am
        Steven McBain said | January 12th 2014 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        And I see this morning that Ross Barkley has broken his toe so hopefully that’ll stop the red tops trumpeting the second coming of Gazza for the next three months……..

    • January 12th 2014 @ 10:45am
      fadida said | January 12th 2014 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      Agree with most of the above. My prediction, given the past is a great indicator to the future

      a) England will be the most boring team at the WC with an incredibly rigid 442, unable to keep possession for more than 2 passes

      b) they will beat Costs Rica 2-0, draw with Italy and then Uruguay 1-1, despite being hopelessly outplayed.

      c) 2nd round they’ll go out on penalties, either with 10 men, or against 10 men

      d) they’ll find a scapegoat, ref, coach, Rooney or an opponent

      e) fans will complain about a lack of passion

      rinse and repeat for the next 20 years!

      • Roar Guru

        January 12th 2014 @ 11:14am
        Steven McBain said | January 12th 2014 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        The only problem with your response Fadida is that it is so concise and accurate that it renders my article a bit pointless!

      • January 12th 2014 @ 4:31pm
        brian drian said | January 12th 2014 @ 4:31pm | ! Report

        Perfect!

    • January 12th 2014 @ 11:17am
      Freddie said | January 12th 2014 @ 11:17am | ! Report

      The red tops about to be trumpeting that England are going to win the World Cup?? Really? Are you absolutely sure about that? Or is it just another stereotypical dig? You’re on safe ground in this country though mate, they love a stereotype here.

      For fadida. Ok, point taken regarding the past being an indicator. Let’s put the boot on the Australian foot shall we?

      “Find a scapegoat”. Just like Australia did with Verbeek at the 2010 WC? Or Osieck after two friendly losses?

      “Fans complaining about a lack of passion.” You mean like the Aussies complained about the lack of Aussie spirit in the Verbeek/Osieck teams? Or how Ange has restored the teams ethic to “having a go.”

      You Aussies and Scots should get married, and instead of vows you can exchange stereotypical whinges.

      • Roar Guru

        January 12th 2014 @ 11:27am
        Steven McBain said | January 12th 2014 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        Freddie, there is no way on earth you can defend some of the stuff the Sun prints in the run up to a World Cup, it’s shameless but as usual with those guys they know how to shift newspapers and everyone falls for it.

        I recall the last World Cup and them wheeling out Terry Venables and Ian Wright for some half witted record (something with ‘dream’ in the title – they weren’t wrong) and everyone starts thinking they can win the thing.

        I don’t think my article in any way is a ‘whinge’. I’ve tried to write a balanced article about England’s chances and what team (I think) they should put out. If you’ve ready many or any of my articles about football I’m always the first to be realistic or even pessimistic about Scotland’s own chances. We’re hopeless and we accept it.

        I lived in London a long time and the majority of my mates are English and I like to see them do well I assure you.

        Don’t be so grumpy mate!

        • January 12th 2014 @ 11:39am
          Jon said | January 12th 2014 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          American here. I still remember the EASY (England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks) dig the Sun threw out. While that was the most outrageous, it was a very common sentiment in the English tabloid and media.

          It felt good when we advanced out of our group ahead of England and having played more exciting football.

        • Roar Guru

          January 12th 2014 @ 12:04pm
          langou said | January 12th 2014 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

          You have done well Stevie Mac. Anything that gets a bit of a rise out the English is good by me.

          My hope is that England get kicked out the World Cup due to goal line technology. If not that, then I will settle for a penalty shootout again.

          • Roar Guru

            January 12th 2014 @ 1:06pm
            Steven McBain said | January 12th 2014 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            Langou, I try to be impartial but you raised a snigger there for sure………..

      • January 12th 2014 @ 2:28pm
        fadida said | January 12th 2014 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

        Touched a nerve Freddie? Was it the 5-0 ashes tipping you over the edge? We hold both the cricket and football ashes now 🙂

        Couple of retorts
        1) no one is more sensational than the English media, Turnip Taylor anyone? The Sun hounding out non-English managers
        2) Osieck particularly was heavily criticised, and none were greater critics than me, for the out of date, ugly, reactive football he played. Quite English actually 😉 We are more interested in just the results. We didn’t want “English” passion eg lots of running and sliding and hoofing, but a more positive approach. Big difference

        Btw England have always been my second team, but they are consistently terrible

    • January 12th 2014 @ 1:36pm
      Freddie said | January 12th 2014 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

      Little brother syndrome. Pathetic. Can I remind you that the Sun is owned by an Australian?

      Jon, an American criticising the English for being parochial is like the Pope criticising someone for being Catholic.

      Iangou, your petty-mindedness shines through. Amazing what passes for “guru” status these days on this site.

      • January 12th 2014 @ 4:23pm
        fadida said | January 12th 2014 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

        definitely touched a nerve 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      January 12th 2014 @ 3:10pm
      Steven McBain said | January 12th 2014 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

      All jibes aside, what does anyone reckon on the first eleven they should put out?

    • January 12th 2014 @ 4:53pm
      nickoldschool said | January 12th 2014 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

      I think this group is pretty even and neither Italy nor Uruguay is ahead of England. Imo England have to impose their style and pace against 3 slower latin teams. Its a pity Walcott wont be there as he is the kind of player who would have created breaches with his pace.

      As for English football fans, the ones I have met through the years were/are pretty level-headed when it comes to the national team. I don’t think many (any?) fans around the world can lecture them tbh. They know very well their NT is a bit of a lottery and isn’t playing the best football on the planet. But they just hope that guts and a bit of luck will win them a trophy some day. Hope they go far (not too far though :).

      • Roar Guru

        January 12th 2014 @ 10:13pm
        HardcorePrawn said | January 12th 2014 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

        Hello Nick,

        As an Englishman I’m well-used to seeing the tabloids exaggerate the national team’s chances in the World Cup (and the Euros for that matter), and have learned to trust my own opinions rather than theirs.
        That said, even I was disappointed by how lethargic and devoid of ideas they looked in South Africa in 2010 and Ukraine/Poland in 2012.

        As for this World Cup, I think that, given the climate, England will really struggle against those you describe as ‘slower latin teams’, especially in their opening match. Neither the English or Italians will enjoy playing in Manaus, but the temperature and humidity is sure to suit the team that can hold the ball better and dictate the pace to make the opposition chase it. I really can’t see how England can break down the Italians in that one, and a 0-0 bore draw is probably the best they can hope for.

        • Roar Guru

          January 13th 2014 @ 2:02am
          Steven McBain said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:02am | ! Report

          HP, you’re typically one of the most objective guys who comment. For me (as a non Englishman) I thought 2010 was a bit of a nadir personally. They were horrible against everyone in the group stage and then the Germany game, well the least said the better.

          The problem I have is I can’t look at this squad and honestly say it looks much better.

          However…… I do think they have options upfront and I truly believe if Hodgson trusts a system that lets those guys play a bit then at least England can win matches. They might get stuffed trying but at least they give themselves a shot. A rigid 4-4-2 again and they may as well not show up.

          Not sure what you reckon?

          • Roar Guru

            January 13th 2014 @ 10:57am
            HardcorePrawn said | January 13th 2014 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            Thanks Steven, is that objective, or objectionable? 😀

            I’m not sure that most of the current lot can play together in anything but 4-4-2. Other formations may be fine when they’re playing for their clubs, but once they pull on the white shirt everything they know seems to go out of the window!
            Other nations may have less-lauded individual players than England, but they’re able to gel into a cohesive and well-structured team when together. I don’t think there’s a manager alive who is able to get the English players to put aside any differences and get them playing well together.

            What also staggers me is that the English national team never seem as professional as others, I get the impression that many players treat these tournaments as extended holidays.
            At Germany 2006 for example a rumour buzzed around certain media circles that the players had put money into a fund, to be given to the first player to hit the spidercam with a ball.

            In England’s opening game – a disappointing-as-usual 1-0 win over a limited Paraguayan side, with only an own goal separating the two teams – it was noticeable that many clearances from Paul Robinson and his defenders went high into the air, obviously with the intention of hitting the camera.

            This isn’t the sort of behaviour one would expect from a national team in a World Cup, in fact I think most fans of any club side would be disheartened to see their team doing that, even if they were a third or fourth tier club.

            Still, I can at least take some heart that there’s usually at least one team at any tournament with a worse reputation than us. Right Nick? 😉

            • Roar Guru

              January 13th 2014 @ 1:37pm
              Steven McBain said | January 13th 2014 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

              If that’s true abuot the spidercam then I’m actually pretty disgusted, but the sad thing is I’m not surprised at the same time.

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 2:18pm
                HardcorePrawn said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

                Actually I’ve just realised that it wasn’t a Spidercam they were trying to hit, but the Commerzbank-Arena’s giant Ice Hockey-esque suspended scoreboard that hangs over the pitch.

                Apparently David James had hit it during the warm-up, to much cheering from the crowd, and Robinson then did the same during the match. It’s one thing to do it during a warm-up, quite another to do it when your team is struggling to get past a pedestrian opposition in a World Cup game.

            • January 13th 2014 @ 2:14pm
              nickoldschool said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

              hahaha yep!!! :). We bring our bad manners/attitude everywhere, why shouldn’t we?!!

              If our presidents (Chirac, Mitterand, Hollande now) are allowed to have affairs, be corrupt, lie etc, why should we ban our football players from:

              -insulting each other or fighting (Ribery and Gourcuff for example)
              -insulting the coach at half time (Anelka)
              -refusing to train, get onto a bus and start a strike (SA 2010)
              -insulting the journos (Nasri, Evra…)

              (That’s only the on field or group related issues btw, its not any better in real life)

              These are our fundamental rights!

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 2:25pm
                Steven McBain said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

                Not to mention the best head butt of all time!

                Still can’t quite actually believe he did that……… But almost a cooler way to finish his career than if he’d won the WC again…….

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 3:09pm
                HardcorePrawn said | January 13th 2014 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                I like it Nick!

                Would you go so far as to say that to not insult your team-mates, coach, kit man, journos etc would be Un-French? 😀

              • January 13th 2014 @ 3:47pm
                Franko said | January 13th 2014 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

                Lol Nick, maybe DSK isn’t looking so bad after flanbys little ‘excursions’ in the 8eme.

                It seems even Corsican mafia is being pulled in to this one…

              • January 13th 2014 @ 3:56pm
                nickoldschool said | January 13th 2014 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

                hahaha in a way, yes!

                Its perfectly ok to be in someone’s face, argue, fight, debate vehemently, express a very strong opinion etc for the french, its even encouraged at school/Uni, on tv, at home, work etc. Ppl who don’t are often seen as ‘weak’ or dull. Many ppl still think that conflicts are necessary to progress and obtain things from others, especially the state (thats why they have 9-10 weeks holiday paid per year with the 35hrs week in place).

                Imo its both cultural and linguistic.

        • January 13th 2014 @ 10:30am
          nickoldschool said | January 13th 2014 @ 10:30am | ! Report

          hey hardcore, agree that climatic conditions will play an important role but no one really enjoys playing in humid conditions anyway. I would think players who are used to EPL pace have more in the tank than other players provided they don’t arrive at the WC too tired.

          I wouldn’t put money on them to win the whole tournament but at this level anything can happen really. You guys really have a love/hate relationship with your national team too, different to ours though. My English mates are often somehow resigned to a certain mediocrity (bit strong but cant think of another word!) at international level, not expecting much from the NT but just hoping they will click and surprise them agreeably.

          • January 13th 2014 @ 11:32am
            fadida said | January 13th 2014 @ 11:32am | ! Report

            History suggests that a) England are physically shattered by the time every WC, EC rolls around and b) that the English game is all about high tempo and running hard is disastrous at international level (particularly in the heat), where it’s all about possession. England run out of gas in every second half.

            • Roar Guru

              January 13th 2014 @ 1:36pm
              Steven McBain said | January 13th 2014 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

              I think a lot of the European players show up at tournaments shattered now but especially the English it seems. You look at so many of the players they have and think of what they contribute in a match. Gerrard (of a younger vintage), Johnson or Kyle Walker, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Wayne Rooney, what are they all renowned for? Running around a lot.

              We hear all the time about how far David Beckham ran in the famous qualifer against Greece, about how Rooney covers every inch of the pitch. No one has pointed out to them that it’s entirely pointless, everyone else is running rings around you. Headless chickens………..

              I think also they’re still miles behind in terms of profesionalism and preparation. If what HP is saying above is true about that thing with the spidercam is true then it just beggars belief. I don’t think it’s moved on much from the ‘dentist’s chair’ back in 1996 in Hong Kong.

              Rooney was atrocious at the last world cup and I read several stories that 3 weeks beforehand he was partying hard in Las Vegas. Your average professional footballer just doesn’t do idiotic things like that ahead of the biggest tournament on the planet.

              All the players were constantly moaning last time also about being bored in SA. You’re there playing football for your country on the biggest stage of all and all you can think about is being bored in between games. It’s just ridiculous.

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 3:07pm
                HardcorePrawn said | January 13th 2014 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

                The difference being is that England acquitted themselves pretty well in 1996, even after the Dentist’s Chair incident. The more recent squads haven’t. 🙁

            • January 13th 2014 @ 1:51pm
              nickoldschool said | January 13th 2014 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

              Quite true, especially point b, which means its more a tactical issue, something for Hodgson to fix.

              Point a is less relevant imo as so many foreigners also play in the EPL and probably more games than some English internationals. Fatigue is a problem for most top nations which have 9-10 month long seasons. Something nations like Oz could take advantage of as they should definitely be fresher than Europeans or top south american nations.

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 2:04pm
                Steven McBain said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

                Yeah you right Nick. I was ranting a bit so went a bit off topic. I recall the 2002 World Cup as a prime example of what you saying. Zidane turned up injured and didn’t play until the third game. Luis Figo was a passenger for the whole tournament and likes like Totti looked hopelessly jaded.

                If you’re playing into the latter stages of the Champions League it’s alot of football for sure with or without the Premiership.

                I think from what I’ve read they play a ludicrous amount of games in the Brazilian domestic season also, state championships etc. Might be wrong though.

              • January 13th 2014 @ 2:19pm
                nickoldschool said | January 13th 2014 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

                Not too familiar with south American leagues either but I would think they play less games than in Europe no?

                But its true that many of the players who play on all comps (dom league, cup, UCL etc) are burnt by the time big tournaments like the WC or Euro start. Their only hope is to have been injured (not too seriously) during the season, like Messi this year.

              • Roar Guru

                January 13th 2014 @ 3:04pm
                HardcorePrawn said | January 13th 2014 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

                I think that the Brazilian league is a straightforward 20 teams, home & away comp with 38 matches each.
                However, most of the other South and Central American countries play an Apertura and Clausura format which can (I think) increase the amount of games played, and make for some headache-inducing mathematical possibilities.

                There are also the two continental club competitions, national cup competitions, friendlies etc. which probably mean that South America and Europe are probably on a fairly equal footing as far as games played go.

                Having said that, it’s likely to be a moot point as I doubt that too many players for the higher profile national squads are still based in South America these days; and can the English squad use the excuse of being exhausted at the start of a tournament when so many of the Brazil squad play in the England too?

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