GROUP D
England

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

For perhaps the first time in their history, England come into a World Cup unburdened by expectation: even the most potty face-painted patriot doesn’t really think Roy Hodgson’s men have got a shout of making the final.

A bitter recent run of underachievement and tame exits from some talented squads has turned England into a nation of pessimists: Brazil will be too hot, the group too strong, the mentality too fragile. Removing the albatross of expectation from Anglo-Saxon shoulders, though, may just have a perversely positive effect: boosted by some fit new blood, the Three Lions might just play with a youthful zest that’s been lacking since Wayne Rooney’s group-stage heroics at Euro 2004. Or they might not.

THE DREAM

Restore some pride. While supporters can grudgingly accept defeat to superior sides, the abysmal showing at South Africa was a nadir: they crawled through a weak group and got thumped by Germany.

Should the Three Lions finally become as good as the sum of their potential parts – not the world's best team, but perhaps in the top eight – and escape the group by playing coherent football, and give a respectful account in the knock-outs, Hodgson can be content. And if a Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Sterling could light up the tournament and give genuine hope of England becoming contenders again, all the better.

THE NIGHTMARE

Expectations are so low that it’s difficult to imagine a doomsday scenario, but more of the same would be pretty bad. Capitulation against a wily old Azzurri and a crafty Uruguay could send England home before their supposed banker against Costa Rica, but wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

It’ll be worse, though, should the old guard look leggy and past it after a long season while the youngsters seem out of their depth and Hodgson quietly melts on the sidelines. Any stripe of gamesmanship from Luis Suarez, meanwhile, will send the tabloids into a frenzy unseen since Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink.

THE STATS
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The footballing world sees the English with fresher eyes than Premier League supporters: witness South American fans wielding signs reading “Brazil would pick Le Tiss” and Pele hailing Nicky Butt as the best player of the 2002 World Cup. Ex-Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino says Lallana “has the skills of an Iniesta, Xavi, a Fabregas”. The rest of the planet might agree.

DID YOU KNOW?

England and Italy are two of the best-matched sides in football. They’ve met 24 times, with England winning 8, Italy 9 and 7 draws. They’ve only met once in a World Cup: the ITALIA 90 third-place play-off. David Platt scored but italy won 2-1.

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The lowest expectations in England's history, but if they clear the group they should experience the usual heroic quarter-final defeat.