IF THERE is any chance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing at this World Cup then Roy Hodgson has to keep him in the England squad and resist calls to summon a replacement.
The Arsenal midfielder was excellent on Wednesday night against Ecuador, before injuring his knee ligaments late in the game – a blow that looks set to keep him out of the first two games at least.
I firmly believe Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a key player at this tournament. Before getting hurt he looked fit, and able to handle the pressure that goes with playing at this level.
He is also a more well-rounded player than some of his rivals for a place. Raheem Sterling needs to be given freedom to roam but Oxlade-Chamberlain will stick to the position Hodgson gives him.
His performance was one of the positives from two useful friendlies against Ecuador and Peru, though Roy’s starting XI is still uncertain and will hinge, I believe, on the opposition.
At this point I should address ridiculous suggestions that Wayne Rooney be dropped. His record plainly shows that he is England’s best player – he just is – so why debate it?
I think Hodgson has handled it very well. Rooney needed to be left on the pitch to get game time and to end that barren run that people were starting to talk about.
Sir Alex Ferguson always noted that Rooney is best when he is playing regularly, and I think he’ll arrive in Brazil fit, fired up and ready to play with controlled aggression.
Rooney is one of eight guaranteed starters – along with Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard, the back four and Joe Hart – leaving three places up for grabs.
Against Italy in the opener – a game that England cannot afford to lose – I would expect Hodgson to err on the side of caution. Either way, his approach will be obvious as soon as we see the team-sheet.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain unavailable, if he picks James Milner it’s clear he is hoping to keep it tight and pinch a 1-0. If Sterling starts it’s because he wants England to blitz Italy for the first half an hour. I expect the former, and it’s probably the wisest move.
Jack Wilshere looked well short of fitness against Ecuador, so I’d leave him on the bench and plump for Jordan Henderson alongside Gerrard.
This week’s 2-2 draw might not be the worst result, either. A big win would have only encouraged false hope; instead England head to Brazil with a good taste of what to expect.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator