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Maradona's 'moral' Hand of God

ESPN FC & Howler
 By John Cross

Sterling's time to shine

Raheem Sterling is pushing for an England start at the World Cup.

Roy Hodgson has made it pretty clear that England's first friendly in Miami will feature the back-up members of the squad.

That means the likes of Ben Foster, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Rickie Lambert and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may all get starts against Ecuador on Wednesday.

Foster and James Milner both did pre-match news conferences on Monday and that was as good a hint as any that they will both play. Well, actually Foster let slip that he's been told he's starting.

- Jolly: Squad players to step up
- Brewin: Rooney's struggles remain

That's hardly a surprise as Joe Hart's understudy needs a run-out to get himself sharp again, especially after Foster actually quit playing for England two years ago.

Needs must for Hodgson and his relationship with Foster from West Brom probably swayed it while others -- like Peter Crouch for example -- have found no way back was offered to them after retiring from international football.

Milner appears to be Mr. Reliable, Mr. Cautious and Mr. England all rolled into one. Look at his record under Hodgson. He plays in all the big games so don't bet against him starting the first game of the World Cup against Italy.

But of all the players who are likely to start against Ecuador on Wednesday, which have a genuine chance of starting against Italy?

It does make you wonder whether Raheem Sterling will start against Ecuador as most people were surprised that he didn't start against Peru and Danny Welbeck got the nod ahead of him.

Really? I was stunned. Sterling has had an outstanding season. I like Welbeck as a player but he had a poor season at Manchester United in difficult times. Sterling surely has an opportunity against either Ecuador or in the second friendly against Honduras on Saturday to prove he's worth his place.

His pace, power and directness must give him a genuine chance to start games for England in the World Cup. That is one position which is possibly up for grabs. Which others? I still think Jack Wilshere may yet push Jordan Henderson for the starting position alongside Steven Gerrard.

Henderson plays a different role for Liverpool alongside Gerrard and it was either England not getting the best out of him against Peru or, more likely, he was restricted by more cautious instructions.

That has opened the door for Wilshere to impress and possibly force his way back into the reckoning in a 4-2-3-1 system.

On top of that, is there enough time for Oxlade-Chamberlain? I'm a big fan of Adam Lallana but he doesn't have the same power and pace as the Ox. He has different qualities. There may be a choice to be made if Oxlade-Chamberlain can show he's at the peak of his fitness and is truly match fit.

The other issue is Ross Barkley. Could the unthinkable really happen -- could Hodgson drop Wayne Rooney? The big issue here is whether England can find the right balance and formation to get a player playing behind Daniel Sturridge. If Barkley can show he can play more effectively in that role than Rooney then will Hodgson have the nerve to drop him?

Personally, I'd pick Rooney every time. He just needs match fitness and sharpness. Otherwise, England look pretty well sorted for their first game. Sterling is the biggest issue for me. He must play.