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Jun 23, 2014

A chance for youth to shine for England

Surely the worst scenario in any sport is the pointless damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't games that have to be played, but that nobody wants to see.

After two games and two defeats in Brazil, Roy Hodgson, faced with the unenviable task of needing to rally his squad for one last World Cup hurrah against Costa Rica, knows that he could really do with a morale-boosting win, and there is probably more chance of achieving that by sticking with what he believes to be his strongest side. However, the coach is also mindful that he needs to look to qualification for Euro 2016, and opportunities afforded by a competitive World Cup game don't come along too often.

Against Costa Rica -- once thought to be Group D's whipping boys, yet the one comfortably going into the last 16 ahead of Italy, Uruguay and the Three Lions -- this would be a good time for Hodgson to test some of the squad who haven't had the chance to shine in Brazil and hope they show enough to get a win. However, injuries and simple lack of form are likely to deny fans wholesale changes.

Hodgson has indicated that Frank Lampard will captain the side in what is likely to be his last England appearance; he will replace Steven Gerrard; a man who desperately needs a rest after a torrid few months for club and country. Gerrard has still to decide on his international future, but Lampard's farewell opportunity suggests that the Liverpool captain is likely to stay on.

Leighton Baines has been a failure at left-back -- the decision to omit Ashley Cole was an error in retrospect -- so there seemed little point in delaying the tournament future of Luke Shaw. Baines' hamstring injury makes the decision easier.

Phil Jagielka has defended poorly for three of the goals England have conceded this tournament, and his international future is likely to be saved only by a dearth of good young defenders to replace him. Nevertheless, this seems an ideal opportunity to play Chris Smalling and Phil Jones and hope that one -- or preferably both -- shows a lot more than the promise they have offered intermittently in the past.

England's defensive strength has been a staple since before the days of Bobby Moore, and it is deeply depressing to see the lack of options available to the Three Lions currently. Short of someone else breaking through, Hodgson may just as well let the Manchester United pair learn on the job.

In midfield, Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere ought to be playing regularly and will surely start, and while it was likely Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have played before had it not been for his ankle injury, it is understood he will not now be risked. There is no longer any point in holding back the career of Ross Barkley, but if England can't utilise the talents of the Everton player from here on in, then they may as well retire competitive action. Thankfully, Hodgson has sensibly already confirmed Barkley will start.

The sad truth is the English public have been falling out of love with their international team for a long time now, but Brazil 2014 has produced a nadir from which English football may never recover unless something can be plucked from the ashes. Hodgson needs to unleash his hopeful youngsters and let them sink or swim. It's not ideal but let it be seen that there really is very little alternative.

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