England and a major football tournament don’t quite go hand in hand, do they? It’s amusing how the British media time and again talks up their nation’s chances just before a major tournament. If one follows only the British media, one will end up wondering why other nations even bother sending their squads over. It’s apparently written in British heavens that England will triumph. These hopes and expectations never materialize in victorious forms on the football pitch though. In fact, “The Three Lions” haven’t won a tournament of international reckoning since the famous “Ghost Goal” won them the coveted trophy back in 1966 in their own backyard. Since then, this passionate football nation has remained starved of success. But this is not about making fun of the myopic British tabloids nor is this an effort to belittle England’s efforts. On the contrary, this is an attempt at exploring why the English media’s optimism might just be genuine this time around.
The Capello factor
After the miserable reigns of Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve Mclaren, the British F.A needed to restore credibility. The pressure and responsibility that come along with undoubtedly the most high profile job in international football are enough to drive any faint-hearted person to madness. So the job required a man with a certain class and pedigree and who had proven to be a success at the biggest stage. Thus the F.A turned to Fabio Capello, one of the main reasons why England needs to be taken seriously this summer.
The unnecessary distraction, which came with the ‘WAG’ culture, has been abolished. Since that has gone out of the window, England is finally ‘Team England’ and not a team of superstars. The cliques and the domestic rivalries have been put aside in the England dressing room. Official blazers, banning of mobile phones and other such measures have been imposed by ‘The Boss’ just to keep the multi-millionaires on their toes.
It’s really the most important factor after all other trivial issues have been put to bed. The Premier league is arguably the best league in the world at the moment and there is undoubtedly immense local talent on offer. Let’s look at a few sure shot names and few of the dark horses that could be on the flight to South Africa.
This has been England’s area of strength over the years and they should be doing pretty well if the defenders are all fit and play close to their potential. The center-back pairing of Rio and Terry is one of the strongest pairings in the world right now with loads of experience in the form of international caps.
RB: Glen Johnson, Wes Brown, Micah Richards
CB: Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Mathew Upson, Roger Johnson
LB: Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge, Stephen Warnock, Leighton Baines, Nicky Shorey, Kieron Gibbs
This is an area where each English fan has a differing opinion to the other simply because nobody has grabbed that position by the proverbial scruff of the neck and owned it. Some make a better claim on the basis of their recent performances during the qualifying campaign while others have international experience and are proven big match players.
The possible few who may make the cut.
Left wide: Ashley Young, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Joe Cole
Right wide: Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright Philips, David Beckham, Theo Walcott
England is blessed with world’s best in probably the most important area of the field and there won’t be many surprise selections in store. Most of them have guaranteed themselves a trip down south. It’s all about being fit and raring to go as it could be their final swansong.
AM: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick,
DM: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves
Now here’s a different line of thought, David Beckham can also be used as an option for spraying the ball from a central position. He did the same quite effectively in his last season at Madrid under a certain Fabio Capello, so don’t rule that one out yet. Quarter back is what they call it back in the Yankee land.
The fate of strikers changes periodically after every run of games with or without scoring. It’s been going on since time immemorial and it will stop only the day Capello announces his squad. Till then, the rumor mills will have a field day. Based on current form and their utility to the English cause it’s hard to look beyond the following names as probable for SA 2010.
Strikers: Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, Michael Owen, Darren Bent, Gabby Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey
England doesn’t have the Buffons or Casillas of this world. Even a Brad Friedel would do just fine. England’s shortcomings in this area of the field are well documented. There has never been a permanent solution since David Seaman called it a day
GK: David James, Robert Green, Paul Robinson, Ben Foster, Scott Carson, Joe Hart
How do they play?
England had a pretty easy time in their qualifying campaign with an out of form Croatia being the only reasonable challenger. But you can only play what’s in front of you, so credit to England as their qualifying campaign was a run away success. The partnership of Rooney and Heskey was pretty impressive with the former benefiting from partnering the tall muscular Heskey. But is Capello game for a change?
With the success of Rooney as a center forward in his new role for Manchester United, there is a possibility of getting Steven Gerrard more involved by playing him off Wayne Rooney as he had a wonderful time doing the same when linking up with Torres while playing for Liverpool last season. This can allow England to have their two most influential players involved more often and not having to accommodate Gerrard on the left or the right.
But judging by Capello’s style of management, it’ll be too much to ask for, for him to experiment in the World Cup and he will probably stick to the tried and tested Rooney/Heskey combination upfront with Gerrard on the left. But it’s always an option to utilize the players more effectively.
Group C: USA(Rank 14), Slovenia(Rank 33), Algeria(Rank 31)
The Americans are easily England’s biggest threat for claiming the top spot in the group, they cruised through the first round of qualifying with an easy home and away win against the might of Barbados. The second stage of qualifying was a bit more challenging with T&T, Cuba and Guatemala in their group, none of which being footballing power houses but again, you can only beat what’s on offer, right? The 4th round was a real test of character and ability as USA proved their mettle, finishing top ahead of Mexico.
Star attraction: Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore (scored 6 of USA’s 42 goals in qualifying), Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Charlie Davies
Best Performance in World Cup: Third place finish in 1930, losing to Argentina in the semi-final
Slovenia are the dark horses of the group and deservedly so, because their qualifying ahead of the more fancied Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland is no mean feat and that too with energy and effort to spare. Having done that and earned a play-off spot against one of the giants Russia, they didn’t succumb to the pressure and emerged with flying colors.
Star attraction: Milivoje Novakovic, Zlatko Dedic
Best Performance in World Cup: Fourth place finish in 1962 but as Yugoslavia.
With the other heavy weights in the group, Algeria will do well to win a match and possibly sneak in, but the chances of that happening are remote. Having said that, they did finish 4th in the recently concluded African Nation’s Cup losing to the eventual winners Egypt in the semi-finals. The qualifying campaign was a major success for the Algerians beating Senegal and African powerhouse Egypt in the Process.
Star attraction: Anthar Yahia, Karim Ziani
Best Performance in World Cup: Never made it past the First Round. Best moment was beating European champions West Germany at Espana 82 in Gijon
Can they do it?
Going past the first round won’t be much of a problem for the English and all things considered, they should top the group. Doing that they would in all probability avoid Germany and top their group which would mean facing Serbia, Ghana or Australia. Now that will be a tough match but most would back England to beat any of those. So a quarterfinal berth is the least one can expect out of England after which they can make further inroads because they won’t be facing tournament favorites Spain early on.
If there was ever a time for the ‘Golden’ generation of English football to make their mark on the World, it’s now. Its last chance saloon as players like Beckham won’t be going to Brazil’14. There is an air of confidence and not just blind optimism about this English side. They have the experience, the class and the talent to back it up and most importantly they have a world-beater in Wayne Rooney. It’s time to believe in the Hype!
England’s nemesis in the past world events has been penalty shoot-outs, which to many is a lottery of sorts but England would do well to think otherwise and burry those spot-kicks if and when the chance comes. Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney are all doing the same for their respective clubs.
TheHardTackle.com Prediction: Semi- finals
England has a chance for sure this time around to prove their critics wrong, it’s not beyond them to go all the way through and win the most prestigious trophy in the game.
However we predict a semi-final berth for the Three Lions, but don’t be surprised if Rooney- mania takes them to the promise land