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ON SOCCER

Putting World Cup in perspective

England's Sturridge says the important thing about the tournament is to enjoy the moment.

December 22, 2013|KEVIN BAXTER

There's no doubt the U.S. was drawn into the toughest group for next summer's World Cup in Brazil, where it will be matched with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

But don't expect the U.S. to get any sympathy from England, which drew Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. If the Americans landed in the "Group of Death," then the English, at the very least, can claim to be in the "Group of Excruciating Pain."

"In the World Cup, of course you want a little bit of luck with the draw and you hope that you get a so-called easy group," said English striker Daniel Sturridge, who has learned a thing or two about bad luck in the last six months. "But I think the most important thing is that you just enjoy the moment and enjoy the World Cup and embrace everything that comes with it and not worry about who's playing in your group.

"Just worry about your team and worry about what you can do to put problems in the opposition's mind."

That's easy for him to say. At 24 and with only nine international games, Sturridge is among the youngest starters for a team that has known mostly frustration on soccer's biggest stage. England has advanced past the quarterfinals only once since winning its only World Cup title in 1966. In two of the last four tournaments, it was knocked out in the second round.

But then Sturridge has a bigger problem to worry about at the moment. Although he began Sunday tied for third in the English Premier League with nine goals, he hasn't played for Liverpool since straining ligaments in his left ankle last month. And he isn't expected to return until February.

He had a similar problem with his right ankle in May after going down in a friendly with Ireland. He sat out three months that time and would have sat out more if not for a punishing rehab program that got him back in time to start in England's final two World Cup qualifiers

He followed that by playing 90 minutes against Germany in an inconsequential November exhibition despite a thigh injury, a combination that may have contributed to the ankle strain 10 days later.

"Horrible," Sturridge said about the view from the sidelines. "The worst feeling to be honest. But it's something that you have to deal with and it's something that you have to understand happens."

And while all that has complicated things for Liverpool, which won its fourth consecutive game Saturday to move back atop the Premier League standings, national team Coach Roy Hodgson is unapologetic.

"It was important to me to, if you like, test his resolve a little bit," Hodgson told the British media after Sturridge's latest injury. "And I am delighted he did get out there, even though he maybe didn't feel 100% because that means in [the] future I will know I can trust him as an England player."

As for the timing of Sturridge's ankle sprain, that pleased Hodgson as well.

"I'd rather the players get injured now," he said.

Sturridge concedes there's a certain logic to that: Sit and rest now and you'll be stronger later.

"I hope that's true. Because if it's not, I'm going to be upset," said Sturridge, who has been joined on the Liverpool sideline by midfielder and English captain Steven Gerrard, who will be out at least three more weeks because of a hamstring injury.

"In some countries they do have a rest of the Christmas period. In England we don't," Sturridge said. "I'm so eager to get back so I can help the team. I'm really motivated, I'm desperate. And I can't wait to be back."

It's easy to see why. Liverpool, one of British soccer's iconic franchises, hasn't won a title in the Premier League era. It's last championship came in 1990, a year after Sturridge was born.

But this winter, behind second-year Coach Brendan Rodgers and enigmatic Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who leads the league with 19 goals, Liverpool appears poised to end that drought. And Sturridge, whose fast start had him well ahead of pace to better his career high of 11 goals in one season, would like to be part of that.

So for the time being he's setting aside thoughts of England's World Cup opener in the Amazon with Italy and the already much-anticipated reunion with Suarez in a game that, should Uruguay win, could lead to England's first group-stage exit in more than 50 years.

"I'm not worrying about the World Cup," Sturridge said. "I'm not worrying about getting myself fit for Liverpool. I'm just worrying about getting myself ready.

"Once I'm ready to go, then I'll be out there running around like a crazed man."

And once he's doing that, Sturridge says he'll be looking for the breaks to finally begin going his way. After injuring both ankles and a thigh since May, then suffering through one of the most challenging World Cup draws in England's history, he feels he's due a little good luck.

"When you have stumbling blocks in your career, it's never always bad," he said, repeating a lesson he learned from Carlo Ancelotti, his first coach at Chelsea.

"Carlo said it's never always rain. There'll soon be sun. I'm looking forward to a bit of sun now because I'm tired of the rain."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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