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England’s evolution: How the Three Lions squad has changed from Brazil to Russia

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Even in the smoldering wreck that was England’s 2014 World Cup performance in Brazil, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Several of the youngsters included in the World Cup squad were beginning to come into their own, and in the Premier League and select matches for the England National Team, showed flashes of their world class talent. This includes Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jordan Henderson, all who have developed into important Premier League players for their clubs.

But there were a number of youngsters, and players in their prime, that many would have presumed would be even better four years from then, and would be players England fans could count on at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Ross Barkley. Luke Shaw. Daniel Sturridge. Jack Wilshere. Phil Jones. Chris Smalling. Adam Lallana.

The septet of players, all of whom when fit can be world beaters, have failed to prove they can stay healthy consistantly for their club teams and England, save for Wilshere. But even Wilshere couldn’t stay fit for England’s last two friendly matches.

Then you have the declines of Gary Cahill, Joe Hart and Leighton Baines. Add in the international retirements of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson and this summer’s England World Cup squad will have a much different look. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

After hiring a pragmatist in Roy Hodgson who ultimately saw England fall to Iceland in Euro 2016, Gareth Southgate has taken advantage of his work in the England youth ranks to give plenty of youngsters a chance, ones that weren’t ready yet for the big stage in 2014.

The Tottenham trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are all expected to start in England’s opening match against Tunisia on June 18. Add in Manchester United pair Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, as well as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford (and maybe even Nick Pope) and you have an evolution of young players moving up the national team ladder, as well as performing each week for their clubs. And each of those players are 25-years and under.

From England’s lineup against Italy in the Three Lions’ opener at the 2014 World Cup, it appears that just Henderson and Sterling are locked in for starting places in 2018, with Danny Welbeck potentially making the list. But after a succession of veteran-laden tournaments, perhaps a tournament in Russia (not too far from England compared to Brazil) is the best place to throw out a group of youngsters on the field in the England shirt, and see what they can do.

Expectations for England remain grounded, and for good reason considering its last two tournament performances. But with so many fresh young faces, there’s still a chance that, like their counterparts at the Under-20 and Under-17 levels, they can put a run together.

England will certainly miss out on what could have been with Barkley and Sturridge in the attack, Wilshere in midfield, Smalling and Jones along the backline and Shaw bombing down the left. But with the introduction of more young players playing at a high level, this team has the talent to compete at the World Cup, and potentially get out of their group.

Brazil to play Germany next year for 1st time since 7-1 loss

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Germany and Brazil will meet next year on the soccer field for the first time since the 7-1 rout in the World Cup semifinals.

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The game, announced by the Brazilian soccer confederation on Friday, is scheduled for the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on March 27, 2018, only a few months before the next World Cup in Russia.

Brazil coach Tite has said he wants his team to play some of the tournament favorites. He also mentioned wanting to play at Italy and at Spain.

Since losing to Germany in 2014, Brazil has rebuilt its national team under the new coach and could become the first team to qualify for the World Cup in the next few weeks.

World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz hospitalized after fight

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) German second-division leader Stuttgart says World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz has been hospitalized after getting involved in a fight Monday night.

The club says “Grosskreutz is doing well in the circumstances. It looks like he can leave the hospital again on Wednesday. Kevin Grosskreutz will file charges after the incident.”

Stuttgart does not give the extent of the 28-year-old right back’s injuries.

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Police, who didn’t name the player, reported that a 28-year-old was taken to hospital with a head injury after receiving a punch in a fight between two groups. A 16-year-old from the same group was also taken to hospital, with no apparent external injuries. Four suspects were arrested.

Grosskreutz, then playing for Borussia Dortmund, was an unused substitute for Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team in Brazil.

Roy Hodgson’s starting XI against Italy – combinations and permutations

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In the weathered hands of England manager Roy Hodgson rests a seemingly infinite number of combinations and permutations from which to pluck a starting XI for the World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday.

Attack is where the discrepancy lives. Joe Hart will start in goal, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will be the starting back four, and Steven Gerrard has locked down one of the central midfield spots.

That much we know. But from there on forward, things get sticky.

The general issue is whether Hodgson will go aggressive and deploy a diamond midfield behind two strikers or whether he’ll opt for the balance of a 4-2-3-1, utilizing two holding players behind three attacking midfielders and a lone striker. But formation is only one component of Hodgson’s prescription. A considerably larger concern is one of personnel and with a number of talented young stallions at his disposal, the England manager has some very difficult decisions to make.

So let’s take a look at a few different setups Hodgson has available to roll out against the Azzurri.

THE TASTE OF LIVERPOOL

The most talked about formation for England, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield, happens to be the same shape Liverpool used to claim second place in the past season’s Premier League. Brendan Rodgers perfected this setup with a rotating group of midfielders but always present in the bunch was Gerrard, at the fulcrum, and Raheem Sterling, in any one of the three advanced roles. Proving himself capable of opening defenses up from the left or right side, Sterling’s game rose to a new level late in the season when Rodgers inserted him into the center of the pitch where his quickness and evasive nature proved too much for stiff-legged central defenders.

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Adam Lallana looks poised to exchange his Southampton shirt for a Liverpool kit.

Another key to the diamond midfield is balance, which is achieved through utilizing fit outside midfielders who have no issue playing both sides of the ball. And there’s no better man for that job than Jordan Henderson, who makes 90 minutes of sprinting look like a walk in the park.

A fellow Liverpool player, Henderson has an intimate understanding of Gerrard and Sterling as well as how to correctly use the diamond shape to his advantage. Henderson’s ability to drop deep, at times even alongside Gerrard, allows Hodgson to select a fourth member of the midfield with slightly more aggressive tendencies.

And who better for that role than Adam Lallana, the $34-42M transfer target of Liverpool, who looks primed to join the Reds by the end of July? The 26-year-old excelled on the left side for Southampton this past year, is not opposed to running himself ragged for 70 odd minutes and provides devastating trickery to compliment that of Sterling.

Opting for a four man midfield with Liverpool connections may feel biased but it’s a proven commodity that sparks goals. Factor in the Daniel Sturridge connection up top and this feels like a balanced yet aggressive lineup for Hodgson to utilize in the event he truly desires to take the game to Italy.

THE (ROONEY-LESS?) YOUTH BLITZ

If Hodgson really wants to throw a curveball at Italy he’ll unleash the youth, likely in a 4-2-3-1, which provides a bit more protection than the diamond. The youth setup would partner 22-year-old Jack Wilshere alongside Gerrard in what would be a clever pivot. Wilshere’s love for the tackle compliments that of Gerrard while the Arsenal man’s knack for creating off-the-dribble would provide a key link between the attacking midfielders and the striker.

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Many pundits feel Wayne Rooney’s starting spot could be in jeopardy. Will Hodgson pull the plug?

In front of Gerrard and Wilshere would be 19-year-old Sterling on the left wing, 20-year-old Ross Barkley in the central attacking role and, ideally, 20-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing. The obvious issue currently facing this system is that Oxlade-Chamberlain is nursing a knee issue that may keep him out against Italy. While his speed and two directional play would devastate and provide balance to this shape he’d be well deputized by Henderson or Danny Welbeck, who would then swap sides with Sterling.

One downside of a youth blitz in a 4-2-3-1 is that Wayne Rooney may be the odd man out. It’s a predicament many pundits believe Hodgson may be inclined to move forward with given the United man’s sub-par Premier League season and poor World Cup history. That said, charging forward without Rooney in the starting lineup feels like a titanic miss and one that Hodgson would be wise to avoid risking. Instead, Hodgson could push forward with a youth blitz and Rooney, who could partner with Sturridge in front of a diamond midfield made up of Gerrard, Sterling, Barkley and Ox/Henderson/Welbeck/Wilshere.

Regardless of using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 diamond, the key to the youth blitz would be giving England fans that which they fiend for the most: Sterling alongside Barkley in what would be a freakishly athletic, skillful and audacious pair that few opposing defenses, including the Italians, would be equipped to handle.

THE RUNNING MAN

As we know by now, heat and humidity will play a large role in this World Cup meaning many a match will come down to a battle of the fittest. And no venue will provide a greater challenge of the conditions than the sweltering jungle of Manaus, where England faces Italy. To hedge against those conditions, don’t be surprised if Hodgson opts for an attacking group of running men, which means James Milner becomes a real possibility to start.

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James Milner’s third lung may be enough to get him into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI.

The City man is as fit as the come. Inserting him on the right side along with Gerrard in the fulcrum, the inexhaustible Henderson on the left, and Sterling at the point of a diamond midfield could prove a very wise play.

If Hodgson opts for a 4-2-3-1, Rooney could drop into the attacking midfield role, Sterling to the bench and Wilshere alongside Gerrard.

It’s a lineup that would allow England to put Italy under pressure and bring veteran leadership into the side. While not the most exciting play, Milner’s work rate could break down Italy’s left side for a sub like Sterling or Oxlade-Chamberlain to then capitalize.

THE OLD GUARD

The most conservative and downright uninspiring attack Hodgson could play would be to pair Gerrard with Milner and Frank Lampard.

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Frank Lampard can play a role for England in the World Cup, hopefully just not as a starter.

Whether in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and regardless of who is played on the left side, such a lineup would reek of a lack of ambition and spell doom for England.

Fortunately, while such a makeup could have been foreseeable under Fabio Capello’s tenure as manager, it seems unlikely that Hodgson would revert to such a level of conservative tactics. There is a freshness about this England squad that is just begging to be unleashed on the world.

What better stage to make it happen than to kickoff Brazil 2014?

 

 

 

Confirmed: Marco Reus will miss the World Cup, replaced by defender Mustafi

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With Germany already struggling to deal with injuries, this latest one hurts badly.

After an ugly ankle injury last night in their 6-1 friendly win over Armenia, it’s been confirmed Marco Reus will miss the World Cup with ligament tears in his ankle.

“For him and for us this is extremely regrettable,” coach Joachim Löw told reporters with a clearly exhausted look.

“Marco was in top form and both in the training camp and in the friendlies against Cameroon and Armenia left an outstanding impression. He had played a central role in our planning for Brazil.“

With Reus, an attacker, withdrawn from the squad, Löw chose to replace him with a defender, Sampdoria’s Shkodran Mustafi, formerly of Everton’s youth program.

“It is not about us replacing Marco Reus one on one,” said Löw. “Our quality in the position behind the strikers is very high. We have Lukas Podolski, Andre Schurrle, Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos to give us plenty of alternatives. That’s why we decided for another option for the defensive area. Shkodran impressed us in training camp, he’s fit, we have confidence in him. ”

The 22-year-old has just one cap to his name, coming last month against Poland.

The blow is a huge one to Germany, who are seriously struggling with fitness. Lars Bender was ruled out due to injury, and many players currently on the roster are clearly less than 100%.  The most notable of those is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who did not play in their 2-2 draw with Cameroon but came on as a substitute against Armenia.

Others include Sami Khedira, who is returning from an ACL tear and was largely ineffective in the Champions League final a few weekends ago, but has made strides since then.  Phillipp Lahm also appears to be close to full strength after missing out against Cameroon.

Shkodran’s recall itself was likely affected by another injury, one to defender Marcel Schmelzer, who was cut from the 30-man roster by Löw thanks to knee problems.

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