Fabio Capello has declared his list of the final 23 to fly down to South Africa and as has been the case for the last 44 years every die-hard English fan is almost certain that this is the year the highest award in the game will come back to the land where the game originated. And as usual almost every non-English supporter is certain that England for all the talk about each and every one of their players playing in the strongest league in the world will most definitely underachieve as has been the trend over the years.
Seaman was no Schmichael or Buffon but he rallied the defense around him and just about got the work done. It is really sad that all these years since Seaman, England have struggled to find a goal-keeper of even similar calibre. 20 Premier League Clubs, 24 Championship Clubs, an umpteen number of lower division clubs and they still struggle to find a goal-keeper who would automatically pick himself into the playing 11. The man between the post is definitely England’s most telling weakness but if I were Capello I would start with Joe Hart in the back simply because he looks to be the more confident and more agile of the three. David James in his prime was an about-average goal-keeper so to even think of winning the WC with Mr. Inconsistency in goal would be reckless. Green did pull off a couple of splendid saves against Mexico but he is not getting any younger at 30 and these saves were against Vela. As they say, the only way Vela knows to score is by chipping it over the GK and I guess he was too close to chip Green. The one factor in favor of England provided Capello decides to put his weight behind Hart is that England are placed in a relatively weak group and that would give Hart some time to acclimatize himself to the responsibility. Irrespective of how many goals they concede England can most certainly outscore the likes of USA, Slovenia & Algeria.
The defense is probably England’s strength with Johnson, Terry, Rio and Ashley Cole picking themselves automatically in the playing 11.
Glen Johnson coming off an excellent season for Liverpool is more than capable of stifling the best of Wingers. He does however make more than his fair share of runs along the flanks leaving the defense exposed at times but I think that with Cole & Glen guarding the flanks it would be any teams nightmare to exploit.
John Terry is almost impenetrable in the premiership but his weaknesses do get exposed when Chelsea play the bigger better clubs in the Champions League. His big occasion temperament is also very questionable as was the case in the finals of the CL against United. Nearing 30 he is not the quickest around or leaps the highest and the same applies to his partner Rio. Terry will still be too good for the strikers in the group stages but his defensive abilities will be really tested in the later stages against the players with the better guile and pace. The downer for England is that Terry who was a major threat with his scoring ability off dead ball situations just a season or two back is no longer a potent goal scorer.
Rio Ferdinand would have to be the weak link in the quartet and his performance for United has been on a constant yet slow downward spiral for some time now. His continued commitment to the game has also been questioned on more than one occasion, something sure to catch the attention of the opposing strikers and worry the coach. And honestly Rio & Terry don’t look like a match made in heaven. You can be rest assured that either of the two is bound to get caught napping from time to time.
If I had to pick from Rooney or Ashley as the best English player around my vote would definitely go to the latter. C.Ronaldo versus Ashley Cole and my money would still be on the man fondly known as Cashley Cole at the Emirates. Why on earth would arguably the best left back in the world want to continue to play at a club like Arsenal with continually diminishing aspirations. They can hate him all that they want but he has gone on to win titles at Chelsea something that doesn’t happen anymore at the Emirates. He reads the game well, looks confident on the ball, is an excellent defender, is good in the air, has good pace and agility, contributes with some telling crosses and can even score the odd goal. What else can you ask of a defender?
That brings us to the players who might have to fill-in in case one of the first choice defenders breaks down, the likes of Warnock, Carragher, King & Upson.
If Ledley King is anywhere as average as he was against Mexico then England are in for some big trouble in case one of the CB gets injured. He lacks pace and agility and it did not look like he can read the game well though he does look to be good in the air defending. Playing for Spurs is one thing, playing against the best that is out there is another thing.
Jamie Carragher simply put is old. If players were ranked for commitment he would be on par with Rooney but his golden days are behind him and his body does not look capable of doing what his mind wants it to do. If he plays against the teams that attack at pace they will be able to run riot over him.
Stephen Warnock is no Ashley Cole and lacks international experience. I would expect Capello to give him some playing time in the group stages so that in case he has to be called up unexpectedly he does not look like someone being thrown to the lions.
The midfield has been England’s Achilles for God knows how long now. A lot of players are apparently capable of playing in a lot of positions in the midfield but not particularly capable of playing well in any given position. That leaves Capello with a host of permutations and combinations to figure-out to get it just right.
Unfortunately for Capello, Lampard for some unexplained reason prefers to leave his prolific goal-scoring boots at the Bridge while playing for England and unlike Gerrard he cannot even complain that they play him out of position. To compound Fabio Capello’s cup of woes Mr.Reliable’s penalty taking ability seems to have ditched him just before the WC. If you ask me between Lampard & Drogba in the final match of the Premiership season against Wigan it was Drogba who took the better penalty. Everything said and done Lampard is still England’s best midfielder and you can almost certainly expect him to score a few goals in SA.
If there was ever a list of players with the most exponential fall in performance standards while playing for country versus club Steven Gerrard would top the list by a mile. I don’t think anyone even comes close, maybe Eto’o but Eto’o is no Gerrard. He recently came out with a statement that this could well be his last World Cup but for once most of England would have wanted him to come out and say that he is going to put all his mediocre performances in previous World Cups behind him, throw in a stellar performance which he is more than capable of and bow out with a bang. There was Rinus Michels who suggested the theory of Total Football and unfortunately football ends up with players who find it difficult to put feet to ball if they are moved an inch or two out of their favored positions. I am sure that this has been said before but saying it for the very last time, if England has to accomplish the seemingly impossible Steven Gerrard will have to stand up and be counted for once for England. The English Chelsea supporters hate Rooney ,the United supporters don’t take well to Lampard and the same can be said of most of England’s players bar Stevie. They all love him irrespective of which club they support and I think that he really owes them one last majestic performance.
Joe Cole is no Robben but a hale & hearty Cole is not very far behind. A lot of people in England seem to be disappointed that Walcott didn’t make the flight but personally I would have been disappointed had Cole not made the final cut. What I personally like about Cole is that unlike the other England players who have their good days and bad days Cole has his good days and his average days. Walcott is as they say a one-trick-pony who can outrun most defenders but nothing beyond running. For all of Wenger’s so called genius there is no marked difference between the Walcott of Southampton and the Walcott at the Emirates 4 years since. Coming off a difficult season for Chelsea, Cole had some wonderful moments against Japan and I would be surprised if Capello does not start with him at least for the first 65-70 min on the right flank and then bring on Lennon for the remainder of the game.
One thing that really astounds me is that there are millions of people out there who argue that the Premiership is the best league in the world when a team with Michael Carrick in midfield goes on to win the title 3 years in a row. The rise of the Premiership has a lot to do with the decline of the Serie A and the La Liga (albeit Barcelona) than an actual improvement in the quality of the Premiership. Carrick has to be the most overrated midfielder in England. He is neither a defensive midfielder nor an attacking midfielder, he does not bring the wingers into play effectively and the bloke cannot pass the ball accurately over distances exceeding 10 feet. How he made the flight is beyond me. How he continues to play for United is also beyond me.
After watching Barry at City I am sure there are more Liverpool fans disgruntled by the fact that they let Alonso go than by the fact that they did not buy Barry. If the number of goals that City concede to even mediocre opponents is anything to go by then Gareth Barry does not make a good defensive midfielder but to be fair to him a defense centered around a clueless Kolo Toure is not ideally what you look for in a team. England with the occasionally vulnerable centre backs does need the insurance up-front in Barry and as long as he checks in fit he is certain to start every game.
James Milner is another of England’s versatile midfielders. He can play as a central midfielder, a left winger and even as a right winger but not particularly well in any of these positions. One of England’s overrated rising talents who I guess will be to this World Cup what Walcott was to the previous.
In Lennon England have someone with similar pace as Walcott but with a considerably better final ball. He can on his day play in some mean crosses but does not cut inside enough and you really would not expect him to score.
How SWP made the final 23 is again something beyond me. Between SWP and Walcott I would have gone with Walcott though it is unlikely that Wright-Philips will get much playing time.
That brings us to the strikers; the England strikers who are expected to do something that they don’t do particularly well, that is, score goals. In all likelihood it will either be Rooney-Heskey or Rooney-Crouch starting for England with Defoe coming on as a substitute for either Crouch or Heskey late in the match.
In Rooney, England has one of the top 5 strikers in the world. He works his socks off on the pitch, has excellent ball control, is a poacher, he takes his chances, he does the defensive duties if required, he is good in the air, he has some deft passes. Any team would love to have him. But the England midfield doesn’t feed him enough balls and even when they do it is rarely with clinical precision. This midfield lacuna forces Rooney to often backtrack to midfield to win the ball. It is another thing winning the ball in midfield, running at a couple of defenders and scoring in the Premiership and doing the same in the World Cup against the best of teams. If England have to shine in this edition of the World Cup then it is absolutely essential that Rooney plays as an out and out striker and the midfield and the support striker perform their tasks of feeding him, efficiently enough.
Emile Heskey is evidently slow, cannot score goals even if his grand-mother was in goal but for some reason he brings the best out of Rooney. He does hold the ball up well and does take a defender or two with him thus making space for Rooney.
Crouch is an aerial threat but nothing more and it does not make sense to start him when England lacks the wingers to get in precision crosses. If I were Capello I would start with Rooney-Heskey like in the qualifiers and only in the case that this combination does not work would I be looking at other options.
This could well be the last World Cup for a lot many of the England players, the likes of Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Heskey, Carragher, Barry, Crouch, King and they would want to go out on a high.England is a better team with a better coach than the previous edition of the WC as compared to most other major teams (with the exception of Spain) who have all gone down a notch. I would personally place England in the Tier II contenders list along with the likes of Argentina, Germany, Italy, Holland and maybe France. If England has to lift the trophy in South Africa they will have to find the temperament and attitude to beat these teams and hope that the stars align themselves to help them beat Brazil & Spain on that particular day.