World Cup 2014: How might England line up for Russia 2018?
As the World Cup drew to its conclusion amid the colour and splendour of the Maracana in Rio, England's brief and undistinguished contribution to Brazil's World Cup did not even merit a footnote.
Blink and you would have missed them. Months of preparation amounted to defeats by Italy and Uruguay in the space of six days before England manager Roy Hodgson and his squad were making the plans for the flight home.
When the story of Brazil 2014 is told, it will be a tale of ambitious attacking football, Luis Suarez's bite and the World Cup semi-final carnage inflicted on the host in a 7-1 loss to Germany that will be revisited as long as the tournament is staged.
England? Move along. Nothing to see here.
|England's World Cup in numbers|
|England have scored five goals in their last eight World Cup games|
|They have recorded more goalless draws in the finals than any other nation (11)|
|Frank Lampard has now had 40 shots at World Cups without getting on the scoresheet|
The immediate priority for Hodgson and the Football Association will be preparations for England's Euro 2016 campaign, with a sympathetic group draw likely to allow them a relatively straightforward passage to France in two years.
But what of the next World Cup in Russia? While Hodgson puts together briefing notes on how and why England slipped into and out of South America almost unnoticed, it is to be hoped a close eye was kept on how the rest of the World Cup played out.
Apart from brief spells against Italy, England's approach was at odds with the fast-paced, counter attacking football even so-called underdogs such as Algeria and Costa Rica were able to produce.
The task for Hodgson is to ensure England are not left staring into the distance as the rest of the football world disappears over the horizon and out of sight by the time the Russian campaign starts.
The likelihood is that Hodgson, barring a spectacular and highly-unlikely success at Euro 2016, will be preparing the ground for his successor. And despite FA backing, he knows any false moves in the Euros could result in a swing in public mood.
Hodgson will be 70 when the World Cup comes to Russia so on any level it is tough to see him in charge.
Those who took on the role of apologists for the limp effort in Brazil claimed it at least gave some youngsters a chance, however limited, so Hodgson must seize the opportunity created by their arrival or he will be considered the man who allowed England to be left behind.
The sight of England's players being applauded off in Belo Horizonte after a tedious goalless draw with Costa Rica was more a sign of acceptance than appreciation. Fans had almost lost the will to criticise.
The lack of any angry reaction has been significant, but there is no guarantee that will remain the case should England get even one bad result in Euro qualifiers.
If Hodgson does not stay in his post through to 2018 - and it is hard to see he will - the FA will then have a difficult choice because, while there have been crucial junctures for England before, this seems even more important given the scale of their failure in Brazil.
The received wisdom seems to be that the national manager should now be English and interlocked with the work at the National Football Centre at St George's Park.
This would suggest that, unless a new and emerging contender comes through, next man in line to succeed Hodgson would be either current coach Gary Neville or Gareth Southgate, who is in command of the under-21 side.
Should this be the case? Should the FA simply go English for English sake if a better alternative is available?
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho flirted with the FA before and the fluid nature of his career means his path is not easy to map out. But his only national interest is Portugal and much later in his career.
QPR boss Harry Redknapp and BBC Sport pundit Alan Hansen have both mentioned Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and Everton's Roberto Martinez as potential England managers. As one is from Northern Ireland and the other is a Catalan, they may not fit the brief, even if they actually wanted the job.
|How England might look in 2018|
|Henry Winter, Telegraph||Oliver Kay, Times||Martin Lipton, Mirror||Daniel Taylor, Guardian||Phil McNulty, BBC Sport|
For now it is Hodgson in charge and, while all eyes are on Euro 2016, the FA and England must also cast a glance long-term to Russia in four years' time with the express intention of putting on a better show than the cameo of failure produced in Brazil.
England, at least, have some building blocks in place in the shape of exciting young players. Here, the old campaigner Hodgson must demonstrate he is the man to inspire them, relate to them and be capable of getting them playing the sort of football that has graced this World Cup.
Hodgson and England must move with the times otherwise the idea of how they will fare at the 2018 World Cup might even be reduced to a redundant argument. They must qualify first.
In a World Cup context, England can forget about Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Indeed, they can probably forget about them now. Wayne Rooney is unlikely to be involved at 32, while Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines - both starters in Brazil - will not be involved either.
At 27, goalkeeper Joe Hart has another World Cup in him, although Jack Butland may come through and challenge.
Manchester United new boy Luke Shaw should lock down the left-back position, while Everton's elegant centre-back John Stones has not only been talked about as a certain regular but also a future England captain.
Everton's Ross Barkley and Liverpool teenager Raheem Sterling will be the shining attacking lights of the new generation, while Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is destined for great things.
|The finals will be held in the largest country in the world, spanning nine time zones and boasting 143 million people|
|There will be 11 host cities, with 12 stadiums. Moscow will have two|
|The venues will be clustered in four zones: Northern - (St Petersburg, Kallingrad); Volga River - (Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Volgograd, Saransk); Southern - (Sochi, Rostov-on-Don); City of Ekaterinburg|
Liverpool pair Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson are also young enough to, barring misfortune, take their England careers through to 2018. Furthermore, Theo Walcott will only be 29 and will hope to make up for lost time.
There is, then, a core of hopefuls.
Beneath them, Hodgson and his backroom team at all levels must look to the likes of Fulham's Patrick Roberts, Southampton right-back Calum Chambers and to the team who were crowned European champions at under-17 level in May.
Captain Ryan Ledson from Everton impressed at that tournament, along with Chelsea pair Dom Solanke and Isaiah Brown and Fulham's Roberts, who has excited so many shrewd observers.
England's first task is to reach Russia and many factors will be at work there. And even if they do, it is stretching credibility to its maximum elasticity to believe they could win the tournament. No-one would seriously go there.
This does not mean, however, that the FA and England should not be looking further down the track to avoid a repetition of their embarrassing early flight out of Brazil.
Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph football correspondent
Touch wood, they qualify. If they do, England should be organised under manager Gary Neville, who pipped Gareth Southgate to succeed Roy Hodgson when England failed to get out of the group stage at Euro 2016. They lack a holding midfielder, but Jack Rodwell could be re-energised by a return to Everton.
Oliver Kay, The Times chief football correspondent
As promising as Calum Chambers, Jamaal Lascelles, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ryan Ledson, Lewis Baker, Patrick Roberts etc are, I would be pleasantly surprised if more than a couple of them are starting for England by 2018.
I have gone for Chambers and Fulham's Roberts, but you never know how young players will develop. That is reflected by the difficulties that Phil Jones and Jack Wilshere have had over the last two or three years, but I would still back them to be part of England's long-term future.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and others will be heavily involved, too, and I would like to think Jack Rodwell would get his career back on track. It would still be a young team by 2018 and a reasonably talented one, but not one - sadly - that would go to Russia, if they qualified, with serious hopes of winning the World Cup.
Martin Lipton, Daily Mirror chief football writer
Having squeaked through via the play-offs (paying the price for falling out of the top nine in Europe by next summer), expectations will not be high for Gareth Southgate's team. I suspect that getting out of the group will feel like a triumph after the last two World Cups. I'm backing Tottenham's Joshua Onomah to fulfil his promise and come through.
Daniel Taylor, Guardian and Observer chief football writer
There are some talented young players here who already have England caps and should, in theory, be even stronger by the next World Cup. Yet how many times have we said that before? It is a recurring theme from generation to generation with England permanently stuck in the same old loop.
Can they win the World Cup in 2018? It is not a credible debate. We came out of the current World Cup with manager Roy Hodgson, Gary Neville (and many others) acclaiming the performance against Italy as the best in over a decade, And yet the bottom line is England were out after six days. It is going to be a long catching-up process.
Phil McNulty, BBC Sport chief football writer
If England actually qualify for the 2018 World Cup, there is a solid foundation of young players who should be in full maturity by then such as Barkley, Shaw and Sterling. It will need a lot more to come through - especially in central defence as I select Smalling with no real conviction - to even think they will make any serious impression. I'm backing Fulham's Patrick Roberts to be one of those. But winners? No chance.