2014 World Cup team preview: England

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Getting to know… England
In this part of the world, England, as well as its importance to world soccer, needs little explanation. The country’s contribution to the game makes it one of the cornerstone nations in the sport, a status emboldened by its domestic league. The Barclays Premier League is the most popular in the world.

The national team, known as the Three Lions, is one of eight to have claimed the World Cup, doing so when the nation hosted the tournament in 1966. Unfortunately, the last generation of returns have been more mixed. Since failing to qualify for the tournament at USA 1994, England has never gotten past the quarterfinals, though it has reached that depth twice (2002, 2006). Having never won a European championship, the 1966 title remains England’s only major honor.

Record in qualifying
A tricky group with Ukraine, Montenegro, and Poland broke the Three Lions’ way when the team posted a 6-0-4 record, scoring 31 times while only giving up four goals. With the Ukrainians on their heals, however, qualifying was in doubt until the last round, when a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium ensured England qualified its fifth straight World Cup.

What group are they in?
Group D with Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay. While few have lumped this group in with Spain’s and Germany’s (seen as the tournament’s toughest), England’s packet will ensure one Round of 16-quality team leaves before the knockout round.

Game schedule: Group D

14 June, 18:00, Manaus – England vs. Italy

19 June, 16:00, Sao Paolo – Uruguay vs. England

24 June, 13:00, Belo Horizonte – Costa Rica vs. England

Star player: Wayne Rooney

The Manchester United attacker is the biggest name in England’s team. Whether he’ll be its best is the subject of debate before every major tournament.

Since scoring four times as a 18-year-old at Euro 2004, Rooney’s scored one goal at the last four majors. Injuries and suspensions have played a big part in that disappointment, but with a team built around his talents, Rooney will be expected to produce more in Brazil. Whether that means scoring more goals or setting up chances for others, it’s difficult to see England going far without a productive Rooney.

Manager: Roy Hodgson

In addition to winning league titles in Denmark and Sweden, Hodgson has taken Inter Milan and Fulham to European finals. On the international level, he’s managed Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland, and while he’s primarily known for pragmatic tactics that are often characterized as negative, he’s brought a stability to England that was much-needed in the wake of Fabio Capello and John Terry’s dramatic exits. With his team eliminated on penalty kicks at Euro 2012, Hodgson also showed he can get results with his home nation, even if those results looked a lot like some of his predecessors’.

“Secret” weapon: Leighton Baines

Regular visitors to this site are well aware of one of the Premier League’s best fullbacks, but particularly if England starts Danny Welbeck wide left in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 setup, the Everton left-sider’s ability to create chances could provide a needed balance the formation. It will also help take the load off Rooney. If Costa Rica, Italy, and Uruguay don’t commit a winger to tracking Baines, the 29-year-old will have an even greater impact on the opposite flank.

Prediction
At the risk of making each team into a cliché, England and Italy – teams that played to a draw over 120 minutes at Euro 2012 – seem destined to end tied. If England can do the same against Uruguay five days later, they’ll go into Group D’s final round knowing a win will probably take them through. It isn’t glamorous, but it could get England into the second round.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.