RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — When the England World Cup squad was announced a month ago, the prospects of advancing far seemed so low that the focus was already turning to the European Championship two years down the line.
Now, despite England just winning just one of its three warm-up matches before traveling to Brazil, coach Roy Hodgson finds himself trying to calm expectations that his youthful squad can cause a surprise at the tournament.
Even the most ardent England fans don’t believe their team can win the World Cup for the first time since 1966. However, there is a belief that Hodgson’s side could reach the knockout phase with an attacking vitality that has been missing at recent tournaments.
After putting his faith in youth, including Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, Hodgson believes he has greater options in the squad compared to the 2012 European Championship.
“We certainly have more athleticism, we have more pace, more mobility,” Hodgson said Tuesday at England’s World Cup training base in Rio de Janeiro. “We have a lot of technical players.
“So I certainly am not trying in any way to play down the fact the future looks quite bright and there are some very, very interesting times ahead for us, I’m sure. At this World Cup we also need our experienced players to help the younger ones along.”
Only six players in the 23-man squad have previous World Cup experience.
“I must advise some sort of caution,” Hodgson said. “As yet, the England players haven’t had much chance in an England shirt to show that potential can be realized … it’s important we don’t build people up too much in saying how wonderful these young players are.
“Let’s see some very good performances in an England shirt first. We know they can do it, we believe they can do it but let’s calm ourselves down a little bit before we start saying we have world beaters in our squad. Because to be a world beater you have to put your international shirt on and play very well.”
One of Hodgson’s gifted youngsters, 20-year-old midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, scored here in a friendly against Brazil last year, but is now racing to be fit for the World Cup.
The Arsenal player sustained ligament damage in his right knee during a warm-up match against Ecuador last Wednesday and could recover for England’s second in Group D game against Uruguay on June 19, Hodgson said.
“It is very positive that he can run so well and so fast in so fast in straight lines and we will be stepping up his training program during the course of the week,” Hodgson said. “There is no guarantee but I am hoping by the second game he will be available.”
England opens its World Cup campaign against Italy on Saturday in Manaus, with its final group game against Costa Rica.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.