England used to be one of the top favorites at the World Cup and European championships, but recent results changed all that. There are not many willing to bet monopoly money on the three Lions to win the tournament and there are some who even doubt their ability to survive the group stage. The fact that they are actually credited with the third chance to win the group stage or make it to the next phase says a great deal about how low the expectations are ahead of this event.
It definitely doesn’t help that England will be playing against Italy and Uruguay, with the latter being the pleasant surprise of the qualifying campaign. The South Americans have a formidable group of strikers and an equally potent midfield, but just like most of their neighbors, Uruguay have serious defensive issues to fix. By contrast, Italy relies on its experience defense and hopes that the aging players will be able to compete at the same level they did four and eight years ago.
More recently, Italy defeated England in the quarterfinals of the Euro 2012 and denied their opponents a chance to score. When the two teams meeting in the opening game, they will play overly cautious, because they know that the one who loses is very likely to be eliminated in the group stage. England needs to pick up all three points against Costa Rica, but past performance suggests that they have serious problems in defeating teams that defend with all lines for 90 min.
The qualifying campaign was no bed of roses either, with England starting slowly and missing many opportunities to win against weaker opponents. Drawing games is their specialty but unfortunately in a competition of such magnitude, you simply can’t defend a scoreless draw and hope for the best. Interesting enough, England has plenty of decent strikers to mount an effective offensive, with Wayne Rooney, Sturridge and Walcott being just a few of Roy Hodgson’s options upfront.
Only time will tell whether the manager will choose to use all these strikers at the same time, or if he will stick to a more conservative 4-4-2 starting formation. The only certainty is that Wayne Rooney is the only player guaranteed to start in all three games of the group stage, assuming he stays healthy. The other strikers with probably get rotated based on their performance in each game, so they have plenty of reasons to do their best each time they join the national team.
The group stage and the event prospects are not overly optimistic and most bookmakers are willing to offer generous odds for England’s success. There is definitely value in backing them to advance to the next stage, even though the risks are equally high, but anything beyond this wager is extremely risky. The players and especially the coach will have a hard time if England is eliminated in the first stage of the competition, so they are expected to throw everything they’ve got to make the last 16.