The 2014 FIFA World Cup was a heart wrenching one for England. The Three Lions were placed in the “Group of Champions,” where they were pitted against former champions Uruguay and Italy, as well as CONCACAF dark horses Costa Rica. While England played three solid matches, they lost their opening two by a score of 2-1, in heartbreaking fashion, before playing out to a 0-0 draw in their final game. They finished rock bottom of Group D, amassing only one point and scoring only two goals.
The focus for England manager Roy Hodgson has switched from Brazil to France, where the 2016 European Championships will be held. While they won’t have to face off with juggernauts like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, or Uruguay, they’ll still square off against a large host of football powerhouses (granted England and the following teams qualify):
- France, the hosts, who will be led by Paul Pogba, a gifted 21 year old with the potential to be among the worlds best in 2 years.
- Germany, the defending world champions, who could even be stronger with the return of Marco Reus and the inevitable maturation of Mario Gotze.
- Holland, who will throw aging superstars Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie on the pitch for what will likely be their final international tournament.
- Belgium, a team made up of a young, steadily improving core, who were quarterfinalists in the past World Cup.
- Italy, who were finalists at the Euros four years ago.
- Spain, who are the two-time defending champions, and still a world class squad despite their putrid World Cup.
England have an outside chance to win the Euros, but to do so, they’ll need to chose their team wisely. Here’s an early look at the 23 players Roy Hodgson should take to France.
- Joe Hart, Manchester City (will be 29 in 2016)
- Fraser Forster, Southampton (will be 28 in 2016)
- Ben Foster, West Brom (will be 33 in 2016)
Explanation: These are the same goalkeepers picked for the World Cup in Brazil. Joe Hart is a no-brainer. The Manchester City #1 played well at the World Cup, and is one of the finest keepers in the Premier League. Fraser Forster has fared quite well at Southampton thus far. Ben Foster is a serviceable number three, though he likely won’t get any playing time at all.
- Gary Cahill, CB, Chelsea (31 in 2016)
- Phil Jones, CB, Manchester United (25 in 2016)
- Luke Shaw, LB, Manchester United (21 in 2016)
- Nathaniel Clyne, RB, Southampton (25 in 2016)
- Aaron Creswell, LB, West Ham (will be 27 in 2016)
- Jon Stones, CB, Everton (will be 22 in 2016)
- Calum Chambers, CB/RB, Arsenal (will be 22 in 2016)
Explanation: A few no brainers here: Cahill, who has been a rock for club and country for years. While he’s falling out of favor at Chelsea, due to the emergence of young french center back Kurt Zouma, Cahill is a very skilled center back who will be able to hold down the defense in 2016. Luke Shaw is clearly England’s left back of the future, so his addition was no surprise. The rest was a bit up in the air. Phil Jagielka will be 34 in 2016, which means he will likely retire, leaving his spot to United’s Phil Jones, Everton’s Jon Stones, and Arsenal’s Calum Chambers. Chambers will need to fight with Tottenham’s Eric Dier for a spot, since they both can play at center or right back. Aaron Creswell’s brilliant season at West Ham earns him a spot over Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs, and Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne sneaks into the squad past Tottenham’s pacy Kyle Walker and Liverpool’s experienced Glen Johnson.
- Raheem Sterling, Liverpool (will be 22 in 2016)
- Danny Welbeck, Arsenal (will be 26 in 2016)
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal (will be 23 in 2016)
- James Milner, Manchester City (will be 31 in 2016)
Explanation: Three no-brainers here. Sterling, who can also play in the center, is probably England’s best player already at 20 years old, and he shined brightest in Brazil. Welbeck started a couple of games as well, showing great pace on the right flank. His Arsenal teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was injured in the leadup to the tournament, but should be an established winger in two years. James Milner beats out Andros Townsend on Spurs because of his experience.
- Wayne Rooney (captain), Manchester United (will be 31 in 2016)
- Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (will be 26 in 2016)
- Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (will be 25 in 2016)
- Ross Barkley, Everton (will be 23 in 2016)
- Ryan Mason, Tottenham (will be 25 in 2016)
- Fabian Delph, Aston Villa (27 in 2016)
Explanation: Easily the hardest category to call. The first 4 are shoe-ins. Rooney is the captain of the team, and is still one of England’s finest players. Jordan Henderson is the heir apparent to Steven Gerrard, both at Liverpool and for England. Jack Wilshere has flashed enormous potential, despite his continuing struggles with injury. Ross Barkley is an explosive young midfielder with a keen eye for goal. The final two members to make the squad at midfield are highly debatable. Mason and Delph squeak in because of their great seasons and the roles they play. Mason is a solid holding midfielder, who has been brilliant for Tottenham when paired with Nabil Bentaleb. Delph is a box-to-box midfielder with a great motor, who has shown flashes with England during his fall call-up.
- Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool (will be 27 in 2016)
- Harry Kane, Tottenham (will be 23 in 2016)
- James Wilson, Manchester United (will be 21 in 2016)
Explanation: Sturridge and Kane are beasts. Kane is the front-runner for the EPL player of the year, after giving scintillating display after scintillating display. He has scored more goals in all competitions thus far than any player in a major league except Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar. Sturridge scored one of England’s two goals last summer, and will likely lead the line again. In a tight battle for the third striker, Wilson beats out Berahino because he’s already proven to be more productive with a lot less playing time. At 19 years old, Wilson is consistently taking playing time away from Radamel Falcao at United. Impressive.
Here’s a projected Starting XI:
And the backup:
Just missed the cut:
- John Ruddy, GK, Norwich
- Kieran Gibbs, LB, Arsenal
- Chris Smalling, CB, Manchester United
- Adam Lallana, MF, Liverpool
- Stewart Downing, MF, West Ham
- Andros Townsend, W, Tottenham
- Saido Berahino, ST, West Brom