CRAIG NELSON: Will Brazil 2014 see Barkley and Sterling write their names in history?

The Bolton News: Raheem Sterling Raheem Sterling

THE majority of fans and pundits have been in agreement about England’s likely line-up ahead of their opening game of the World Cup against Italy tonight.

It looks as if most of Roy Hodgson’s team is set in stone, apart from the wide midfielders, with Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling fighting over the two spots.

The fact there is very little conjecture could be a good or bad thing.

On the one hand, it seems there is very little genuine competition for places, but everything points to a very clear pecking order within the camp, something Rickie Lambert and Ben Foster have attested to.

The players all know who is first choice, and those there to make up the numbers all seem be happy with that, for now at least.

If the whole squad is pulling in the same direction, then that can only be positive, but those who do not make the first team in Manaus must not assume they are only there as a glorified cheerleaders.

Bobby Robson’s two World Cups as manager – Mexico 86 and Italia 90 – offer a good case in point.

The sides that took to the field in the opening games of both those tournaments were very different to those that fared so well in the knockout rounds.

Chris Waddle and Mark Hately were dropped after England lost to Portugal and then drew against Morocco in 1986, while Ray Wilkins never played again after being sent off in the second match and captain Bryan Robson went home after dislocating his shoulder.

In came Peter Beardsley, Steve Hodge, Trevor Steven and Peter Reid and the rest is history.

It took those four changes to kick-start Gary Lineker’s scoring run and he went on to win the Golden Boot, while it took a combination of Maradona’s sublime skill and the ‘Hand of God’ to finally knock them out in the quarter-finals.

Fast forward four years and Bobby Robson’s side again failed to fire in the opening match and, as the story goes, only hit upon a winning formula, which would eventually see them reach the semi-finals, when the players grouped together to ask for a change of formation.

‘Captain Marvel’ Bryan Robson again went home after two matches due to injury, while Paul Parker and Mark Wright were drafted into a new five-man defence and David Platt was slowly integrated into the centre of midfield to partner Paul Gascoigne.

The point is that World Cup fortunes do not necessarily hinge on the tried and tested players.

Often, it is those unknown quantities who rise to the occasion that can really make a World Cup team.

So while the footballing world already knows all about Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, maybe it will be the likes of Sterling and Ross Barkley who live long in the memory.

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