WORLD CUP FORECAST: Group D - England's youth looking to surpass the old stagers
Roy Hodgson has named a fairly inexperienced preliminary squad for Brazil 2014 which suggests there is a changing of the guard within the England national team.
There are plenty of unfamiliar faces in the Three Lions setup and although it is refreshing to see, it could work one of two ways at a World Cup.
Either the youthful exuberance and vivacity will be a major positive and lead them to at least the knockout phase, or the naivety and rawness of a young group will allow opponents to assert their authority, causing undesired results.
The saving grace for Hodgson is that he has kept together an experienced core who are passionate about playing for their country and are determined to achieve success.
The 2014 World Cup will give England an opportunity to field a new-look team and play a different brand of football and it could also lay the foundations for a bright future even if it comes at the expense of another early exit.
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Fixtures: Italy - June 14 (Manaus), Uruguay - June 19 (Sao Paulo), Costa Rica - June 24 (Belo Horizonte)
Past outings against group opponents: The English have beaten old foes Italy eight times in 24 internationals which has also included seven draws and nine defeats. The Three Lions last saluted 2-1 in a friendly in 2012 but their last WC meeting saw the Azzurri triumph 2-1 in the third-place play-off in 1990.
England have gotten the better of Uruguay on three occasions but have drawn three times and lost four times in their 10 encounters. The pair have met in two World Cups in the past, with England losing 2-1 in the quarter-finals at Switzerland 1954 before playing out a 0-0 draw in London in 1966 - the year the English hoisted the cup.
England have never met Costa Rica at senior international level.
World Cup utopia: A quarter-final berth would be out of this world for the English.
Doomsday scenario: The knives will be out if they finish below Costa Rica. Similar negativity will be directed at Hodgson and the team if they don't at least get a favourable result against either Uruguay or Italy.
Qualified by virtue of: Finishing on top of UEFA Group H.
Best result at a World Cup: WON (1966)
The UEFA qualifying campaign was a success for England who navigated an at-times tricky group which saw them having to travel to such places as Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland.
Admittedly, it was a group a team like England should emerge from relatively unscathed but an unbeaten run of 10 games probably exceeded prior beliefs.
Again it was Man Utd's Rooney who led the way with seven goals in the qualifying crusade but the remainder of the burden was spread over the rest of the group, indicating that England are beginning to rely on fewer, with more contributors coming to the fore.
In 2014, Rooney will again be relied upon to do most of the grunt work up forward but the expectations on him are nowhere near as high as they have been in the past. That, doubled with an influx of excitable youth, could be a blessing in disguise for the now 28-year old veteran of 89 internationals.
Skipper Gerrard will lead the way from his central midfield position in which he is likely to play next to the talented Adam Lallana with such new faces as Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in support.
One name not usually seen on 'England's key player' lists is that of Everton defender Baines. The left-back position is his for the taking following the omission of Ashley Cole and if his club form in 2013/14 is anything to go by, he is ready to fill the void.
Baines has a stunning left boot that supplies pinpoint crosses and deadly set pieces which can be a dangerous weapon while the rest of the defence have been stingy in recent times, conceding just four goals in qualifying.
There have been a few little hiccups in recent friendly results which leads us to believe that perhaps there is still some tinkering to be done by Hodgson if they want to get the better of their Group D opponents, particularly the Italians and the Uruguayans.
As mentioned before, Brazil 2014 could quite possibly be a tournament of looking to the future for England but thankfully the public anticipation is not boiling like it has been in the past, rather bubbling away, which is a welcome relief for the players and coaching staff who can go about their duties with limited hindrance.
In saying that, however, the group they are about to descend upon is sure to trouble the Three Lions at times and it will be interesting to see how the unproven majority respond to the impending examination.
Prediction: Group stage elimination.
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