The unmistakable excitement of a World Cup around the corner. With exams finishing, and the warm weather returning, football’s biggest competition is making a welcome return. Who will follow in the footsteps of Italy, and be crowned champions in South Africa? Do England have a chance of finally laying the ghost of 1966 to bed?
Fabio Capello will soon announce his twenty three man squad to take to South Africa. They will take a nation’s hopes and dreams along with them. I’m looking at his provisional squad, and seeing who is included, who should be included, and who should not be included.
Robert Green – Favoured by Capello and has started many of the recent fixtures. Had a good season for the most part, not helped by a defence low on confidence.
David James – has shown his capabilities this year. Experienced and reliable, his heroics in Portsmouth’s FA Cup run might win him the number one jersey.
Joe Hart – Has enjoyed an excellent season. This tournament has probably come too soon for him though. He may need a transfer from Man City if he is to be second choice to Shay Given, and avoid becoming another Steve Harper.
Green performed well against Mexico and will probably start as number one. Teams such as Spain and Brazil have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to goalkeepers and we have to hope that young English goalkeepers will be allowed to come through. It is telling that both Green and James played in teams participating in relegation battles.
Ashley Cole – Consistent and ever-present. Still one of the best players in his position in the world.
Leighton Baines – Will probably get the nod ahead of Warnock. Good cover, but Wayne Bridge would have been better.
Stephen Warnock* – A surprise addition. Will probably not make the final twenty three.
John Terry – Captained Chelsea to the Double, but needs to keep focused. Media need to let him get on with his job.
Rio Ferdinand – Now has the captaincy. His lack of playing time is a worry, but he should resume his successful partnership with Terry.
Ledley King – If he can keep fit, King could prove to be a very useful player to take. A strong physical presence and an excellent tackler, he offers realistic cover for Ferdinand.
Michael Dawson* – another solid Tottenham defender. One for the future.
Jamie Carragher – Brought out of retirement to provide cover. Always a player unfairly overlooked at this level.
Matthew Upson* – A player Capello likes, but the emergence of King will probably see him drop out of the reckoning.
Glen Johnson – A great attacking presence, as his goal against Mexico showed. Needs to concentrate more when defending, and a lack of cover if he gets injured is a worry.
A strong pool of defenders. The only worries are the injury problems that have plagued Cole, Ferdinand and King, and the absence of a natural cover for right back.
Joe Cole* – Is there room for him? He is versatile and always offers something, but will probably miss out this time.
James Milner – The man-in form, and in demand. Hopefully, he can keep his mind off a move to Manchester and deliver in South Africa.
Steven Gerrard – Will he have his mind on other things, amidst the uncertainty at Anfield? The weight of being Liverpool’s sole hope (when Torres is injured) will be swapped for the expectation of a nation who realise he is perhaps England’s most talented midfielder for a generation.
Gareth Barry – Another favourite of Capello and is certain to go if he can recover from his injury.
Scott Parker* – Arguably the reason for West Ham’s survival, but will probably face too much competition for a place.
Michael Carrick – Rightly chosen in the provisional squad over Hargreaves. A great player when in form, his chances of going probably depend on whether Barry recovers in time.
Theo Walcott – Has endured a frustrating season with injuries and dips in form, but he can always make something happen.
Frank Lampard – Unfairly maligned by some. Lampard is a tremendous player, and if he can work as successfully with Gerrard as he has done in Qualifying, there is reason to be hopeful.
Aaron Lennon – A good alternative to Walcott. Has had a good season, but has suffered from injuries recently. Will probably make the cut at the expense of Huddlestone or Wright-Phillips.
Tom Huddlestone* – Also has a good season, starring in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Probably one for the future.
Shaun Wright-Phillips – Inconsistent at international level and may be dropped by Capello. Next season could be key for him.
Adam Johnson – Could be taken as a wildcard. Has enjoyed a strong start to his Manchester City career, and can play a role on the left or right.
England are not short on quality in midfield, and while Gerrard, Lampard, Milner and Walcott will definitely be on the plane (with Barry sure to follow if he can prove his fitness), the other spots are pretty wide open.
Speaking after his lecture to Lancaster staff and students, Sir Bobby Charlton told SCAN that Michael Carrick has been unfairly overlooked by people analysing the provisional thirty. He said: “I know Carrick seems not to have played a lot recently, and people aren’t talking about him like they should, but he’s a quality player who can impress with his passing and his movement. I would hope that he is in, and I know I’m very close to Man United, but I do think he should be there.”
Darren Bent – Has to go. Whether he does is another thing. His goal scoring record this season speaks for itself.
Peter Crouch – wonderful scoring record with England (even if not always playing against top opposition). Becoming an unlikely fan favourite.
Jermaine Defoe – probably the striker with the most ability to finish a chance. Has earned his ticket to South Africa this season.
Emile Heskey* – A player who really divides opinion. Players love playing with him, and he is rated by Capello, but his lack of playing time for Villa this season may have cost him his place.
Wayne Rooney – If he can stay fit, and Capello plays him in a role where he can link up with Gerrard, he can be a match winner.
Again, England have a range of different strikers offering something slightly different. The choice will probably come down to Bent and Heskey.
Reasons to be optimistic:
- Fabio Capello – A strong, organised, experienced manager.
- Relatively easy run – Qualifying from Group C should offer no problems, and England should be able to navigate themselves through the last sixteen without too much trouble.
- Quality – individually, we have some of the best players who will be at the World Cup.
Things we can expect:
- Heartbreak – be it in the form of penalties, an injury, a suspension or something else- it wouldn’t be a World Cup if England didn’t suffer somewhere along the line.
- Hyperbole! Expectations need to be kept in check.
- Skinner and Baddiel
- John Motson – now at his tenth World Cup.
- A dark horse progressing further than expected. Denmark? Ivory Coast? Serbia? All could offer a surprise.
- Diego Maradona making some eccentric decisions.
- Adrian Chiles at ITV – still doesn’t feel right.
- Sepp Blatter doing something outrageous and/or embarrassing.
- Winners: Brazil or France (against all the odds and common sense, but just a hunch).
- England to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. A step further is probably too much of an ask, but the last word should go to Sir Bobby Charlton, who said: “I don’t worry about anything; I think all the players are capable. I think that we’ve got a chance, we’re not favourites,” he paused, “but I think that’s good.” Lets hope he is right.