Jan Molby

Liverpool can provide backbone for an England win over Italy

Jan Molby

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The World Cup is almost upon England. I think Roy Hodgson will be quite happy with England's performance against Ecuador in the 2-2 draw.

Obviously, the knee injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a worry, but he was never going to start against Italy.

Overall, Roy Hodgson will be content with the showing, as these friendlies at a neutral venue are never the best.

There appears to be a nice harmony in the squad. Everybody knows where their place is.

I think we roughly know who is going to be starting the opening match which I think is good for the harmony within the squad because then people don't get overly disappointed when they don't start games.

I think Roy will be delighted with the preparations so far. Against Italy, I think Roy will go with the grinders - men he knows he can rely on in such a demanding match.

I think he might have to change it against Uruguay, but at least he has the comfort of knowing he possesses players who can totally transform the way England play.

He can go off-the-cuff with players like Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. It is good for Roy to know he has that in his locker.

But he won't do that until he has to. I think Italy are there for the taking in the opening game, but the problem Roy must deal with is avoiding defeat.

You don't want to be playing catch-up after the first match. I think he will be cautious, and would take a draw to leave it in their hands afterwards against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

But you also have to think if this was a qualifier at Wembley, Roy would really be looking to get at Italy.

You would feel like that in midfield, England have enough fresh legs in there to run away from them.

Andrea Pirlo is terrific, but is not the best at tracking back. I'd like to think that Roy will get to the last 30 minutes or so against Italy, and unload a few players so they can really test them.

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I'd go with Sterling on the right, Sturridge through the middle with Lallana on the left. Rooney in behind with Gerrard and Henderson supporting Rooney. I'd chose five Liverpool players because Liverpool have been the form team possessing English players.

It gives the teams plenty of mobility and balance with Rooney in the number 10 role. It is all well and good people talking about Rooney not being at his best in this position, but I think you have to give him the first game to see how he performs because sometimes big players reserve their best performances for these key matches.

This is a chance for Rooney to silence the doubters which he could do. Sterling and Lallana would give them England that level of unpredictability, but I realise Roy might well opt for Danny Welbeck or James Milner in one of the wide roles.

The criticism of Milner is very unfair. He played right-back against Ecuador, but he is not and never will be a right-back.

He gives his lot for England, and is a terrific player. He gets sold down the river with his club and country because when he plays for City he is compared to David Silva, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure.

He is a different player from them, but he is a very valuable member of any team. The fact that he is playing for City when they are not keen on English players tells you enough about the qualities of Milner.

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Brazil are favourites for the tournament, but only because of home advantage.

They are certainly not an overly daunting side. If you are asking me who I think will emerge with the trophy, I keep coming back to the defending champions Spain.

I quite like Argentina. If this had been played in anywhere but Brazil, they wouldn't be the obvious choice.

I hope the European challenge is going to be strong because I look at France, Italy, England and Holland. I'm not sure how strong those teams are.

Germany are possibly a side who could feature in the latter stages, but I just look at the squad and it seems to me roughly the same as two years and four years ago.

I think they are just short of the quality needed. I think we may just have seen the best of that German team.

I'm not sure it is good enough to win a World Cup.

Portugal have Ronaldo, and much of what they do will come down to what he does providing he is free from injury. He is very, very special, but I don't think he is enough on his own to win it for his country.

Spain seem to be the obvious choice because of the way they play. They lost to Brazil in the Confederations Cup a year ago, but the World Cup is a different competition.

They have an economy of style and ability to retain the ball that should really work well in Brazil.

Being on the ball all the time, and their short passing style, is a natural fit for the conditions.

There is a reason why no European side has won the World Cup in America, but Spain are well placed to end that sequence.

By Jan Molby

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