A winning squad Selection
Selecting the correct 23 is vital to your success in the tournament. Preparing for best and worst-case scenarios, and also selecting a squad that fits the style of football you’re going to play should all be taken into consideration.
For starters, only select two goalkeepers. Keepers rarely get injured in FIFA so there’s no point wasting a seat on the plane for somebody who definitely won’t play. Take Hart and Ruddy just in case Hart starts playing poorly or does somehow manage to get hurt.
Use the extra position to take another centre back. Taking just three is risky, as they’re susceptible to both injuries and suspensions, with bookings in successive games enough to miss the following match. Also, Ashley Cole now lacks the pace to stand up to the wingers who will be heading to Brazil, so swap him for Gibbs.
Because you’ll only be playing one striker, overload the midfield with players. Don’t think about who is the best according to what you see on TV, look at the numbers in the game. Townsend should be dropped in place of Ashley Young, who will become a key asset to the team. Walcott also comes in (left out I assume only through his real-world injury). There’s also scope to include some of England’s exciting youngsters like Lallana and Barkley. The one wildcard is Danny Welbeck, who only stays thanks to his versatility of being able to play in midfield and up front.
Finally, two of your front three should pick themselves (Rooney and Sturridge). The last spot depends on how much crossing is a part of your game. If it’s key, go with Lambert over Carroll, who has better ball control. If not, Defoe, who was my pick purely because of the poorer crossing in this game. However, Lambert could be key for corners thanks to the new tactical options.
Your final 23 should look something like this:
England’s default formation in the game is a 4-2-3-1. The advantages of this formation, in real football at least, is that it can operate defensively as a 4-5-1 which can quickly break into a 4-3-3 on the counter attack. Its fluidity creates havoc for opposing teams as it is solid through the middle and is very rarely rigid.
This isn’t real football, so switch it to the more attacking version, the 4-3-3. Which 4-3-3 is up to you, but I found the basic 4-3-3 works fine, but False 9 can be effective to bring Rooney into the game earlier if your build up play is more considered.
The 4-3-3 is great for counter attacks and exploiting England’s pace on the wings, which will be vital against the likes of Italy in England’s opening match. It also gives you three central midfielders to stop any counter attacks.
Believe it or not, your most important player in this set-up is James Milner. Milner will operate as the holding player in the midfield three. He has the pace to snuff out any breaks and can also provide support going forward.
Your other two midfielders should have some pace between them. Meaning one should be either Wilshere or Gerrard and the other Lallana or Barkley. Playing both Wilshere and Gerrard limits the support to your front three, meaning any clearing headers from defenders aren’t gathered and opponents can break.
General gameplay tips
Use your subs
While it can be tempting to continue to field a team playing well throughout the whole tournament, it can come back to haunt you in the final matches. Try and rotate players towards the end of matches you’re comfortably winning.
Resting players for the final, or those on bookings, is important to keeping your ideal 11 ready for the final.
Pay attention to form
Players form can dip or improve throughout the tournament. Make sure that you pay attention to this between matches. It is better to field players in form than those necessarily higher ranked. In my first stint in the tournament, Ross Barkley earned a place in the starting 11 ahead of Jack Wilshere thanks to two excellent games from the bench pushing his overall rating to 80, so it pays to rotate your squad based on performance.
Don’t run around chasing the ball with one player, opponents will quickly exploit the pace and at the very least have a shot on goal. With goals being so crucial in knockout football, it’s vital that you stay tight defensively and don’t give away sloppy goals.
How to beat Italy
To beat Italy, you need plenty of pace in the team, especially out wide. Here is a line-up that is most effective at attacking and dominating the game to get the win:
Go with an attacking mentality and shuffle between the counter attack, high pressure and swap wings custom tactics.
Keep feeding the ball to your wingers and attacking with their pace. Ignazio Abate, Italy’s right back, is their fastest player, so stick Walcott on the opposite side to make sure he is effective. When you do get past the full-backs, try to cut inside and drag another defender towards you before crossing, creating extra space for your men in the box.
Playing through balls from the middle of the pitch out to the wing, between Italy’s centre back and full back is a great way of exploiting the space behind the defensive line. Make sure the pass is played along the ground, as through balls won’t be played with enough pace to be effective.
High pressure causes havoc for Italy’s defence, leading them to either pump the ball upfield towards Balotelli, who won’t win many headers against Jagielka and Cahill or give the ball away in a very dangerous position to the likes of Rooney and Young.
If you find yourself struggling to convert chances, then look to bring on Sturridge and Barkley in the second half. Sturridge can play on either flank, but move him to the right to cut inside and get shots away from the edge of the box.
A draw is the minimum you should take from this game, but a win is preferred. Uruguay are the much tougher team, so three points here will give you the greatest chance of getting out of the group stage.
How to beat Uruguay
Uruguay are a much tougher team than Italy. They’re fast and strong, with two of the best strikers in the game in the form of Suarez and Cavani. Uruguay play a form of 4-4-2, but also field four strikers, with Cavani and Suarez in the midfield. The AI also has a tendency to substitute two of the strikers towards the latter stages of the match..
Cavani is the biggest threat you’ll face. His aerial presence means that he’s likely to win most headers and knock the ball down to his supporting forwards, in the form of Suarez, Forlan, Hernandez and co.
In order to counter Urugay’s strengths, you’re going to slightly tweak the formation to a 4-3-3 false nine.This allows Milner to sit in a deeper role in midfield, congesting the zone to help win second balls from Cavani and limit long range efforts. Bring Gerrard and Wilshere into the midfield too, as passes and possession are important due to Uruguay being dangerous on the break. Rooney also plays as a centre forward, meaning he can come into play sooner, and pass the ball wide.
If you do find yourself in a position to cross it, make sure you aim for the back post for the late-arriving winger. With the support of your midfield, there’s a chance of being able to follow-up with a volley if the ball is headed clear. This is why having a player like Gerrard in the line-up is important, he has the ability to score goals from midfield where most other players in the squad can’t.
Also bring Daniel Sturridge into the line-up in place of Ashley Young, but move him to RW with Walcott on the left. Crosses won’t be the key to winning this game, you want Walcott and Sturridge cutting inside and peppering the goal with shots.
The 4-2-3-1 can also be effective thanks to the two holding midfielders, but can limit your attacking options if you choose to sacrifice Rooney into midfield and move Sturridge as the striker.
The important thing here is to not lose. Hopefully you picked up three points against Italy to leave you in a strong position to qualify with a draw here. If you failed to beat Italy, ideally you need to win this game, as qualification may be out of your hands in the final group stage match. Win one of your first two fixtures and you’re perfectly set-up for the Costa Rica finale, the easiest of the group.
How to beat Costa Rica
This is more a case of how many goals you win by, rather than any tactical battle. Costa Rica are a poor side, and don’t have any quality players you need to worry about.
Revert back to your attacking formation (you can go even more attacking, if goal difference looks like it could play a part in the group) and concentrate on piling on the pressure rather than worrying about defensive duties. Costa Rica’s best forwards are Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz of Fulham (currently at PSV), so don’t fret about leaving yourself vulnerable at the back.
This is also a good chance to get your key players in form leading into the knockout rounds. Getting players like Rooney and Sturridge on the scoresheet and also keeping a clean sheet yourself will help improve overall performance in the last 16.
With at least five points you should make it through the group. If Italy and Uruguay draw, then goal difference becomes a factor (assuming they both beat Costa Rica), so make sure you attack the whole match.
A win for either team means you finish second in the table, and will likely face a tougher last-16 draw.
The knockout rounds
As the knockout phase is open to random draw, you can face any of the other teams left in the competition. We’ve put together some general tips so that you’re more than ready to face whatever foe comes your way:
1. Study your opponents
Whichever team you’re drawn against, take a look at their line-up, see which formation they use and weaknesses you can look to exploit.
An awareness of what you’ll be lining up against will help you go into the game prepared. You can view your opponent’s line-up in the menu just before the match, and make changes accordingly in team management.
2. Rotate for bookings and fatigue
As we said previously, avoiding suspensions and burn-out are vital for the latter stages. If a player gets booked, try and take him off to avoid the risk of getting sent off and missing the next match. At the very least, don’t make risky challenges with him.
Players in demanding positions will gradually lose fitness over the course of the tournament if played for 90 minutes every match. Older players are also susceptible to losing stamina quickly, and failing to recover it between matches.
3. Stick with the same back four
Barring injury or sudden losses of form, your back four should stay the same throughout the tournament. The full-back’s have good stamina, so can last the duration, and a consistent back four will get you used to how they play come the final couple of games.
4. Train your midfield and forward starters
Focus on training players in your starting line-up. England aren’t a team who leak goals, so focus on improving your attackers to make sure you don’t squander chances and get knocked out against a team you’ve dominated but failed to score against.
Dribbling, passing and shooting are key attributes to improve over the course of a tournament, and will really help improve your odds. If the likes of Lallana and Barkley find themselves in your line-up, then add these to the four trainees, as they need training more than others.
5. Finally, practice penalties!
England are notorious for being knocked out of tournaments on penalties, so head into skill games and practice a few rounds, just to be extra cautious.
Make sure you know who the better penalty takers are in the squad (Welbeck is surprisingly effective, for instance) and who you should substitute in the closing moments of extra time.
Penalties have been simplified somewhat in 2014 FIFA World Cup, with the aiming reticule much more steady as you move left or right. Practice with players of different penalty-taking quality so you know how erratic the aiming can be and you’ll be set to lift the trophy.