ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson insists his youthful squad is ready to challenge for the World Cup and has refuted claims that some starlets have been picked solely to gain major tournament experience.
Hodgson yesterday confirmed a 23-man party for next month’s trip to Brazil that includes 10 players under the age 25 and only five who have previously played at a World Cup.
Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, 20, Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, 18, and Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, 19, boast just six caps between them, but the England manager is adamant that they have earned their places ahead of the likes of Tom Cleverley and Ashley Cole.
“We should not get hung up on the fact that there are youngsters in there. I am not taking anyone purely for the experience,” said Hodgson.
“It’s wrong to focus totally on the fact there are those who are inexperienced, because everyone is inexperienced until they get the chance to do the job.
“We are not thinking about Euro 2016. That is a long way off. This tournament means everything to us. We want to do very well in it so our focus is on this tournament.
“I refute any claims that some of these players have been selected because of 2016. They are selected because of 2014 and I think that they can do well.
“I believe the squad can win the World Cup, because otherwise what’s the point in taking them? If we are going to win it we will have to play very well, prepare very well and this talented group of players have to show their talent.”
Hodgson added that there was enough experience among the rest of the squad – with captain Steven Gerrard a veteran of 109 caps, Frank Lampard 103 and Wayne Rooney 89 – to cope with the injection of youth.
The party could get greener still if Manchester United defender Phil Jones fails to prove he is over a shoulder injury by 2 June, with Hodgson ready to promote Everton’s uncapped John Stones from the standby list.
Joining Stones on the list of seven reserves are United midfielder Carrick, his team-mate Cleverley, former Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe and West Ham forward Andy Carroll.
Arsenal duo Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the 23 despite missing the final stages of the season, and Hodgson said he had no concerns over their recent injuries.
Hodgson conceded that some young players, such as Sterling, had forced him to rethink the plans he had for the squad when England sealed their World Cup qualification in October, but pleaded for caution over Barkley, who has been compared to Paul Gascoigne and linked with Manchester United.
“He’s a very, very exciting player, a very exciting talent and if he can continue at that level he has a very exciting future ahead of him,” he said. “But I would hope people will temper their expectations of him.”
10 Players aged under 25 in England squad
5 England players with World Cup experience
30 Competitive mins played by Barkley for England
THE WORLD CUP SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Man City), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Fraser Forster (Celtic)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (England), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Man City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Standby: John Ruddy (Norwich City), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool), John Stones (Everton), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Andy Carroll (West Ham United), Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC)