Banking on youth

One of the most telling moments of England’s World Cup build-up came off the pitch, away from the players, crowds and live TV cameras on the night of a laboured 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley in March.

Denmark coach Morten Olsen, completing his post-match news conference turned back to the mass of reporters as he left the auditorium and shouted: “Good luck in the World Cup — you need it!”

As well as producing howls of spontaneous laughter, it crystallised in nine words what most people think about England’s return to the land of their greatest soccer humiliation — it is doomed to failure.

Even the chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke does not appear to think much of their chances. At the draw for the Finals in December, when England were grouped with four-times champion Italy, twice winner Uruguay and stubborn Central American middleweight Costa Rica, Dyke was caught on camera grimacing and making a throat-slitting gesture.

Manager Roy Hodgson, 66, has been careful to avoid talking up England’s prospects too much. It is not that he has been getting his excuses in early — he has just been wary about raising unrealistic hopes. On the one hand, he has a squad full of exciting young talents such as Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, Arsenal pair Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the injury-prone Jack Wilshere, as well as promising Southampton duo Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw. He can also call on seasoned veterans like captain Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney.

England went unbeaten through a tricky qualifying group including Ukraine and Poland, winning six matches and drawing four, scoring 31 goals and conceding four.

Over the last two years, Hodgson has given youngsters like Lallana, Shaw, Sterling and Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge a chance to prove their worth and they have not let him down.