England should still be capable of topping their World Cup qualifying group

A failure to win two of their opening four qualifying matches has left England in a tricky position in Group H.

They trail Montenegro by two points, and are only three points clear of third-placed Poland, with the Poles boasting a game in hand.

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Next month's trip to the Montenegrin capital Podgorica is hugely important, although the group is likely to come down to the final two rounds of matches, which see England hosting Montenegro and Poland in the space of four days in October.

Wednesday's performance proved England are capable of matching anyone on home soil, with the vibrancy of their attacking auguring well given the need for victories in their remaining six group games. For all that Montenegro cannot be discounted, Roy Hodgson's side remain favourites to claim the automatic spot for Brazil.

Jack Wilshere has developed into the finished article at international level

He is only seven games into his England career, but Wilshere has already emerged as the squad's pivotal performer.

He has displayed glimpses of his abundant ability in the past, most notably in 2011's away win in Wales' Millennium Stadium, but a succession of serious injuries have prevented him realising his obvious potential in an England shirt.

Crucially, this season has been a largely injury-free campaign, and after repeatedly catching the eye in big games with Arsenal, Wednesday's friendly finally saw the 21-year-old dominate proceedings against a major international opponent.

He provides much of what England have been missing in recent years, with his box-to-box energy complemented by an impeccable technique and a fine eye for a pass.

Wayne Rooney should not be moved from his role as the central striker

Rooney has been moved here, there and everywhere during his England career, with a succession of managers believing his best position was in a withdrawn role playing off another striker.

Perhaps it still is, but if the likes of Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge are the leading candidates to be that other striker, it makes no sense to lessen Rooney's impact by dropping him deep.

He filled the central attacking role on Wednesday, with Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck playing on either side of him, and there was a purpose and focus to his play that has not always been apparent when he has appeared in an England shirt.

Rooney has matured greatly over the last few years, and now appears disciplined enough to lead the line as a central striker. That should be his role for the remainder of the qualifying campaign.

Perhaps it was too early to write off Rio Ferdinand's international career

With John Terry retired and Ferdinand seemingly cast into the wilderness, Hodgson has overseen a radical changing of the guard in the central defensive positions.

However, on the evidence of Wednesday night, he is still some way from assembling a defensive unit that can be relied upon in moments of pressure.

Gary Cahill's error-prone display was a major cause for concern, while Chris Smalling boasts precious little Premier League experience at centre-half. Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka were on the substitutes' bench, but the former can't get a game at Manchester City and the latter has struggled to hit top form with Everton this season.

Ferdinand has been persona non grata ever since he was left out of the squad for the European Championships, but his experience and unflappable temperament could be crucial if things get tight towards the end of the qualifying campaign.

The lack of a natural holding midfielder remains a cause for concern

I know this sounds like a stuck record, but England continue to suffer from the lack of a naturally defensive midfielder capable of protecting the back four.

With Wilshere and Tom Cleverley given licence to attack, Steven Gerrard appears to have been earmarked for the deep-lying role and, in the last few months, the England skipper has adapted his game at club level to focus on more defensive requirements.

However, he is still liable to go missing as he pushes forward, and there were a number of occasions, particularly in the first half, when Neymar and Ronaldinho dropped deep to great effect.

The incidents didn't lead to a goal, largely because Brazil's attackers failed to find their target with most of their passes, but it is not hard to imagine England leaving themselves much too open in the future, particularly if they are chasing a game.

Brazil are suffering from a lack of competitive action

Their FIFA world ranking of 18 might be much too low, but these are troubling times for Brazil as they prepare to host the World Cup in the summer of 2014.

A lack of competitive action is a headache for any host nation, but its effect on Brazil appears to have been exacerbated by the national federation's desire to squeeze as much money as possible out of the national team.

Brazil are in the middle of what effectively amounts to a 'World Tour', staging friendly matches in Europe and the Middle East, regions their sponsors are aggressively targeting, rather than hosting games in Rio or Sao Paulo.

The effect has been to diminish the competitive importance of Brazil's matches, a process not helped by Luiz Felipe Scolari's raft of second-half substitutions at Wembley. If the hosts are to triumph in 2014, the sooner they start playing matches that matter, the better.


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