England's Dreaming: World Cup Hopes 2014
It's just about the time now when, after months (or years) of cynicism about the England team's hopes, people start to look at the squad and the fixtures, and think a few, tentative, positive thoughts. No-one – least of all the bookies – thinks England will win it, but Roy Hodgson's attitude seems to be this; pick a bunch of enthusiastic youngsters with little fear and not much to lose, and have a go. It's enough to make even the most dried-up, bitter, middle-aged pessimist start to get excited. If that sounds like you, you'll need a set of Panini stickers, and a printable wall chart for the World Cup.
Everton's Ross Barkley is our first youngster to watch. The midfielder is just 20, though he's been at the club nine years. After loan spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, he scored for the Toffees on the opening day of the 2013-14 season, and was good enough all season to be shortlisted for PFA Young Player of the Year in April. Needless to say, some pundits are already speaking about him as being the “new Michael Owen/Paul Gascoigne”; if he can keep his feet on the ground in Brazil we may be in for something special.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool's 19-year old winger, has been playing for England since under-16 days. Also on the PFA shortlist this year, he's had an excellent and highly promising league season, regularly scoring twice. Arsenal fans will want to forget his brace against the Gunners at Anfield in February. Sterling was Man Of The Match in only his second appearance for the senior England team, after helping to defeat Denmark in a Wembley friendly.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still just 20, and his energy and enthusiasm for the game is in evidence every time he steps onto the pitch for Arsenal. A long lay-off following an injury on the opening day of the season was unfortunate, but he came back in style in February, scoring twice against Crystal Palace. If anyone doubts his credentials as part of Hodgson's set-up, they would do well to remember that The Ox has scored against Brazil at the Maracana – the stadium that will host the World Cup Final 2014.
It's not all kids, of course; Gerrard, Lampard and Phil Jagielka will provide maturity and advice, but the raft of new talent in the England squad should provide a few magic moments – starting on 14th June, against Italy, in the jungle!