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Soccer-The kids are alright, says England boss Hodgson

Reuters

By Michael Hann

LUTON, England, May 12 (Reuters) - England manager Roy Hodgson is adamant none of his World Cup squad are going to Brazil just for the ride despite including eight players under 24.

Theo Walcott failed to make an appearance when called up by Sven-Goran Eriksson as a 17-year-old for the 2006 World Cup but Hodgson is ready to let his young thrusters loose.

"We shouldn't get hung up on fact that there are youngsters in the squad," Hodgson told a news conference on Monday.

"I'm not taking anyone purely for the experience."

The youthful flavour of Hodgson's squad contrasts with the perception that he does not like to take risks after his methodical Euro 2012 side were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Italy.

Hodgson, who guided Switzerland to the last 16 at the 1994 World Cup, has been so impressed by his young England guns that he believes Group D clashes against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica hold no fear.

"Do I believe the squad can win the World Cup? Yes, otherwise what is the point of taking a squad to the World Cup?" the 66-year-old quipped.

Everton's prodigious midfield talent Ross Barkley epitomises the vibrant, new-look England squad, with the 20-year-old flourishing under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park this season.

Barkley's performances have seen Martinez compare him to former England favourite Paul Gascoigne, but Hodgson does not want the midfielder to be worn down by the weight of expectation.

"He's a very exciting player," he said. "A very exciting talent. If he can continue at that level he has a bright future ahead of him.

"I hope people are realistic with the level of expectation.

"We think he can be a very exciting member of the team, but I don't want people to think every time he gets the ball he can score a goal like he did against Manchester City, or that he can run 40 yards and dribble past people. Footballers don't do that."

TIMELY REMINDER

Hodgson had been fretting over the fitness of Arsenal midfield duo Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while defender Phil Jones picked up a shoulder injury during Manchester United's penultimate game of the season against Hull City.

After securing World Cup qualification, Hodgson promised he would not select players who were not "100 percent fit", but the inclusion of the trio and especially Jones provides a timely reminder of England during the Eriksson era.

At the 2002 World Cup Swedish manager Eriksson gambled on the fitness of David Beckham after the England captain suffered a metatarsal injury and, despite playing in all five matches, the midfielder was far from his best.

Four years later and with the hopes of a nation resting on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney, Eriksson took a punt on the fitness of the young striker, who was suffering with the same injury as Beckham, but it once again proved to be in vain.

"We wouldn't have selected anyone in the 23 if we thought we would be on tenterhooks regarding fitness," said a defiant Hodgson.

"The only one I would say that seriously poses a question is Phil Jones.

"He had his shoulder injury a week ago and, from what everyone tells me and my experience, it is a three week injury to be back and playing.

"But we can't guarantee that so I will be taking John Stones and Jon Flanagan (as cover) with me."

England, who start their World Cup campaign against Italy in Manaus on July 14, travel to Portugal on May 19 for a training camp before hosting Peru at Wembley on May 30. Hodgson will confirm his final World Cup squad on June 2. (Editing by Mark Meadows; mark.meadows@thomsonreuters.com; +44 20 7542 7933; Reuters Messaging:; mark.meadows.reuters.com@reuters.net; To sign up for our Global Sports Forum chatroom, click on https://forms.thomsonreuters.com/global_sports_forum)

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