Special Sterling can emulate Rooney and become Hodgson’s hero

COMMENT: Ten years after Wayne announced himself at Euro 2004, the Liverpool forward can have the same impact in Brazil – and Roy Hodgson must pick him for Italy opener in Manaus

By Greg Stobart in Brazil

One of the iconic sights in the city of Manaus is the meeting of the waters, the point where the sandy-coloured Amazon and the dark Rio Negro meet but refuse to converge, creating an image like an oil slick in an ocean.

Roy Hodgson’s most pressing task when his England side face Italy in the Amazonian city on Saturday will be to effectively blend together the exciting, youthful players in his squad with the more experienced members of the ranks.

Hodgson has to find a way to make it work and needs to show some bravery when he picks his side to face Italy, two years after England were knocked out of Euro 2012 by the Azzurri on penalties following a miserable performance in Kiev.

Hodgson has bravely picked a squad brimming with young talent, but a fear has remained among supporters that he will lean towards his usual conservatism rather than take the game to Italy.

But with a new-found optimism surrounding the England team and fans on board for the first time since the so-called ‘golden generation’, Hodgson cannot miss the opportunity to build around the attacking young players who could one day win an international tournament.

His approach will be defined by how he opts to use Raheem Sterling.

Really, there should not even be a debate. Sterling is the most talented young Englishman to emerge in a decade.

Ten years after Wayne Rooney announced himself to the world at Euro 2004 with sensational performances and four goals as a fresh-faced teenager, Sterling can have the same impact in Brazil this summer.When England training was opened to the media at their stunning base at the foot of Sugerloaf mountain last Monday, it was Sterling who caught the eye of the hundreds of onlookers as the outstanding player on the pitch.

He starts the World Cup as England’s in-form player after a stunning few months for Liverpool in which the 19-year-old was key to the Reds title challenge, scoring nine Premier League goals – and important ones at that.

His movement, speed, trickery and tactical intelligence would cause problems for any defence in the tournament.

“Italy should be thinking about how to control our team,” said Wayne Rooney in a press conference this week. “They have good players but so do we. They should worry about us.”

They should worry most about Sterling, the fearless midfielder who demands the ball from team-mates and even alongside Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Co. plays with the cockiness of the best kid on the playground.

His red card for a stupid challenge against Ecaudor has cost Sterling minutes in England’s warm-up games, but he must surely start against Italy, particularly with his ability to play in any position across the pitch behind the main striker.

Sterling is the leading light in a group of young, fast attacking players in a squad that also includes Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw.

Italy can expect to face a very different England side to Euro 2012, a team with far more energy, vibrancy and attacking thrust on the counter-attack. For all the concerns about the heat and humidity in Manaus, Hodgson’s men are fitter, faster and better set to handle the conditions.

Hodgson is sailing down the river and is faced with two choices. He must make the the right decision.

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