A touch of luck would suit Englishmen fine

A touch of luck would suit Englishmen fine

A touch of luck would suit Englishmen fine

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

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 football 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 champions Italy, twice winners Uruguay and stubborn Central American middleweights Costa Rica, Dyke was caught on camera grimacing and making a throat-slitting gesture.

He later backtracked, brushing it off as a joke, but there are, nonetheless, real fears about 1966 world champions England failing to make it out of the group stage, which has only happened twice before in 1950 and 1958.

For once the hyperbole that normally surrounds England's chances ahead of major tournaments has been muted and it would surprise few if they left with the other first-stage fallers before the knockout stages start on June 28.

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.

But, he warned: "We are in a tough group with two former world champions who are rated as highly as we are, so it's like having three seeds in the group. But it is an interesting group and I think we are helped by the realisation from everyone that is not an easy group.

"That, I think, is an advantage. People at home know their World Cup history, they know that European teams have never succeeded in South America.They know there are 32 highly motivated teams out there and that means there really are no easy games."

England went unbeaten through a tricky qualifying group that included 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 themselves and they have not let him down.

Two other young talents, Theo Walcott and Jay Rodriguez, would have been in his squad for Brazil, if they had not been sidelined with serious injuries.

While John Terry, England's best centre half on current form, is no longer part of Hodgson's plans following his retirement from international football, the England coach still has a solid core of older players who know what to expect.

They also know they must deliver in what will be the last finals tournament many of them will play in.

England skipper Gerrard has had a stunning season playing in a deeper midfield role during Liverpool's march towards a possible Premier League title while Rooney has scored regularly despite the upheavals at Manchester United.

Getting past both Uruguay and Italy would represent a serious test for England but if they do, the confidence could come rushing back.