England's unlikely World Cup candidates

With just over four months to go until the 2014 World Cup, Sports Mole takes a look at four unlikely candidates staking a claim for a place in Roy Hodgson's squad.

With the latest Premier League season whizzing by, we now find ourselves just four months away from the highly-anticipated 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

England's place in the tournament was guaranteed by a 2-0 victory over Poland in their final qualifying group game last year, and since then manager Roy Hodgson will have been mentally forging a 23-man squad.

While some players appear to be certainties for a place on the flight to Brazil, many spots in the squad are still open for players to make a claim in the remaining months of the Premier League season.

A few are doing exactly that, and here Sports Mole looks at four unlikely candidates to earn themselves a place in Hodgson's squad this summer.

Adam Johnson (Sunderland)

Adam Johnson of Sunderland celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage on January 11, 2014© Getty Images

Forget Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero, Adam Johnson is arguably the most in-form player in the Premier League right now. The winger has led Sunderland's charge out of the relegation zone under Gus Poyet, and they now sit rather more comfortably in 14th place.

Johnson scored yet again to help Sunderland to a memorable 3-0 win over local rivals Newcastle United yesterday, making it six goals and two assists in his last four league games.

Hushed talk of a potential recall surfaced following a hat-trick against Fulham in January, and Johnson has repeatedly admitted that he would love a chance to grace the international stage once again after two years in the wilderness.

His form in recent weeks has turned the possibility of him entering Hodgson's thoughts from whimsical to warranted, and if he can keep on scoring goals with such regularity, then it would be hard for England to ignore him.

The 26-year-old is still young enough to have another World Cup in him, which could prove important in Hodgson's decisions as he looks to build a team for the future, while injuries to the likes of Theo Walcott have also helped his cause.

VERDICT: If the squad was chosen tomorrow, he probably wouldn't make it. However, should he continue this form for the rest of the season, Hodgson will have little choice but to seriously consider him.

Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring his team's fifth goal against Norwich during their Premier League match on December 4, 2013© Getty Images

Raheem Sterling burst onto the scene for Liverpool at the start of the 2012-13 season, but tailed off towards the end of the campaign and found himself out of favour at Anfield.

However, an injury to Daniel Sturridge gave Sterling the chance of regular first-team football this season, and he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, keeping his place in the side even with Sturridge's return.

The 19-year-old scored three goals in the space of four games back in December and also has four assists to his name this season, helping a free-scoring Liverpool side make a serious push for the top four.

His first spell in the Reds team resulted in his one and only senior England cap in 2012, but he will be hoping that his recent form has alerted Hodgson to his ability once again.

The youngster has age on his side and would be good for at least two more World Cups in the future, which could entice Hodgson to give him some valuable experience in Brazil.

The winger can certainly cause any defence problems with his electric pace, but there are doubts over his final pass and Hodgson may feel that other players are more complete at this moment in time.

VERDICT: His age is perhaps his most appealing attribute from Hodgson's point of view, and there is little doubt that taking him to the World Cup would prove beneficial in the long run. However, even with Theo Walcott's injury, there are a few players still above him in the pecking order.

Gareth Barry (Everton)

On-loan Everton midfielder Gareth Barry in action against Chelsea on September 14, 2013© Getty Images

By far the most experienced player on this list, Gareth Barry has thrived under Roberto Martinez at Everton and is enjoying getting regular playing time after four years at Manchester City.

The 32-year-old is only on loan at Goodison Park for the season, but his form will surely have Martinez thinking about making the deal permanent as his side continue to push for a place in the top four of the Premier League.

Martinez is not the only man that Barry's form will have alerted, with Hodgson also sure to have taken note of the midfielder's steady performances.

The centre of midfield is a particularly competitive area for England, with Steven Gerrard all but guaranteed a place as captain and the likes Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Tom Cleverley, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere all battling it out for another spot.

The form of Daniel Sturridge could have an impact on Barry as England are likely to play with him and Rooney up front, meaning that there will likely only be one spot to fill in central midfield.

Barry's chances could get even slimmer if Hodgson chooses to adopt Gerrard in the more defensive role that he is currently playing for Liverpool, as the England boss would then be likely to choose an attacking option alongside his skipper.

However, the value of experience, particularly in major tournaments, should not be underestimated, and with 53 caps already to his name, Barry is ahead of most of his competitors in that respect.

He has not played for his country since 2012 having missed the European Championships through injury, but could be a useful squad player if he keeps up his good form.

VERDICT: He would be a safe choice and Hodgson is generally a safe manager. If he does go, it would be as a squad player and he wouldn't make the starting XI, but with such heavy competition he faces a tough task to even make it on the plane.

Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)

Southampton's English striker Jay Rodriguez celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the English Premier League football match against Newcastle United on December 14, 2013© Getty Images

Southampton's English trio of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have been central to their success so far this season.

All three players have already earned call-ups to the international stage, but it is fair to say that Rodriguez struggled the most with the stepup in class.

While both Lallana and Lambert would expect to be on the flight to Brazil, Rodriguez's place in the squad is very much up for debate following his uninspiring England debut in November.

However, the key to an international recall always lies in club form, and there can be no doubt that Rodriguez is keeping his name in contention with his recent performances for Southampton.

The 24-year-old notched his 10th league goal of the season in the Saints' 3-0 win over Fulham yesterday, a tally that makes him the club's highest scorer in the top flight in the current campaign.

That certainly gives him a claim for an England spot, especially if fellow striker Lambert is included too. The duo have established a good partnership, with Lambert recording seven assists and Rodriguez three already this season.

While he can no longer be regarded as a promising youngster, Rodriguez certainly has the best years of his career ahead of him and could benefit from a trip to Brazil, even if he doesn't see much game time.

England could also benefit from having a strong presence from one club in the squad, and if Luke Shaw can also work his way into contention, then Southampton would provide an impressive four players.

VERDICT: Hodgson is likely to take four strikers to Brazil, and at the moment they look like being Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert. However, should he opt for five attackers instead, Rodriguez would probably be next in line, just ahead of the likes of Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe.

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