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There has never been a better time to be an England fan!

Thursday 23rd January 2014
Oliver Friend shares his thoughts on why it's good to a fan of the English national team as the team prepare for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Has there ever been lower expectations for England going into a tournament? A less than convincing qualifying campaign, poor performances in recent friendlies, doubts about the manager and a lack of world class players has led a lot of fans to predict an exit from the World Cup at the group stage for the first time since 1958. In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be an England fan.

My earliest memories of England are from the 1998 World Cup so I have grown up watching the "Golden Generation" be formed, play and slowly disintegrate leaving behind as many trophies as we had before them. Every competition brought with it the same target, reach the semi-finals at least. Winning the whole thing was a realistic aim but who wanted to say that and see us fall well short? I think the most optimistic prediction I've heard so far for 2014 has been to finish second in the group and then put up a decent showing before being knocked out by Colombia.

High expectations are something that I think has always worked against the national team and I truly believe that going to Brazil with such a negative mentality will actually benefit England. I don't know about before Fabio Capello resigned but certainly afterwards, this attitude surrounded Euro 2012. With a team in transition, any hope of winning in Poland-Ukraine was replaced with a feeling that the tournament was just part of a lengthy warm-up to Brazil. And what happened next? England finished top of the group before narrowly going out in the quarter finals on penalties (because of course) to a very good Italy side that reached the final. Losing the belief that we are one of the top nations made us forgot that we are still a very good one.

Fast forward two years and you get a feeling of deja vu. Take the injury to Theo Walcott, for example. I don't know if it is because we are still six months away or not but the fact he is out for the World Cup seemed to be forgotten about after just a couple of days. His injury is a big blow as well; he would have been a very important player. I may be wrong but I get the feeling that the reaction if it had been Wayne Rooney instead would have only been slightly bigger. Why worry about injuries to important players when we stand no chance of winning, right?

Without the weight of expectation, this World Cup should be a nice change of pace for England fans. We can finally watch the games and focus on just cheering on the team for those ninety minutes without having to worry what the consequences of a goalless first half might be. This is without a doubt the best mind-set to be in as an England fan. I used to have the same unreasonably high standards that England had to meet as other fans but I found that I enjoyed games a lot more the moment I lowered my expectations, considerably.

I find it very harsh for people to criticise Roy Hodgson for how the qualifying campaign turned out. The other nations competing to qualify; Poland, Montenegro and Ukraine, would not have looked out of place if they had reached Brazil. Yes, there were a lot of draws but more importantly, there were no defeats. I would not say that any of those countries are ones that we "should be beating". That is a term that has been over applied to too many countries and should just be saved for the teams in our group like Moldova and San Marino.

My main (and probably only) problem with Hodgson as England boss would be some of his selection policies. At times, he seems to show an inability to stray from the top teams when it comes to naming his squads. This especially annoyed me during the recent friendly matches. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are his preferred centre back partnership but there is a worrying lack of back-up to them. In the last squad, these back-ups were Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who had being playing irregularly for Manchester United at centre midfield and right back, respectively. Curtis Davies of Hull was in great form at the time but seemed to be completely overlooked. I will give him credit though for calling up the Southampton trio of Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana.

But some worries about who will be in the squad for the finals aside, I am feeling surprisingly optimistic for the fast approaching World Cup. There are some very talented English players shining in the Premier League this season and I'm very interested to see what they can do on the international stage. If England do go out in the group stage than fair enough, as long as they put in some good performances and don't get embarrassed. Italy and Uruguay certainly aren't unbeatable and while Costa Rica have done well to get to Brazil, I think we will have too much for them to deal with.

Will England win the World Cup? No. Can England win the World Cup? It's not impossible. I think we have the same chance as any of the second tier teams listed just behind the five or so favourites.
Oliver Friend
23 year old Psychology graduate from The University of Hull. Massive England fan and supporter of Birmingham City at club level. Currently spending a lot of time going to watch North Ferriby United in the Conference North. Also try to keep up with the major European leagues. Follow on Twitter: @ole1208

Total articles: 35

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