A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

England defeat Ukraine to all but seal World Cup bid in 2010

England coach Fabio Capello was pleased with a 2-1 triumph over a dogged Ukraine side at Wembley Stadium. The win all but secures a World Cup spot for the Three Lions, with games away to Kazakhstan and at home to Andorra only in the way of a perfect qualifying campaign, as the tournament in South Africa next summer looms.
The defeat of Ukraine was far from straightforward and a laboured English side only sealed victory with a John Terry effort five minutes from time. Andriy Shevchenko, $30 million Chelsea flop and now national team supersub, played his part and equalised after coming on in the second half, after Peter Crouch proved his worth in the starting line up with a side-on bicycle kick score on the half hour mark. Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, the two men most key to Capello’s plans, were at the heart of everything encouraging England did and worried the Ukraine defence throughout, the Manchester United striker coming close with an overhead kick, the Liverpool talisman curling a free-kick inches wide of the scrambling goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov. Captained by Terry, England did dominate the first half but let their standards slip in the second and were lucky to come out with the three points, Beckham’s cross vital to the late goal that has allowed English fans to dream of the upcoming World Cup.

However, a nation with the size and resources such as England should have no problems in qualifying for major tournaments, and Capello has done well to bring back the confidence to his side that dwindled under Eriksson and was non-existent under McClaren, who is proving himself far from a failure with FC Twente in Holland.
Much has been made of the Italian manager’s discipline, from banning butter at the breakfast table to forcing the squad to wear unfashionable tracksuits, but his team seem to have got the message that hard work and sustained effort will bring them success, and so far during the former Real Madrid boss’ tenure it seems to be working.

Five wins out of five in the qualifying group is exactly what the FA would have wanted when they appointed Capello, and England, although not looking like the finished article, have a certain purpose and directness about them which will see them go to South Africa with higher aspirations than they have had in previous tournaments. England have more points at this stage than Croatia, Portugal, France, Czech Republic, Russia and Italy, and have showed more consistency and confidence than those teams. There are still many strong teams in Europe that will pose a threat to the Three Lions during the World Cup, with Spain in iressitable form with Fernando Torres and David Villa firing off the strings pulled by Xavi, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas, the Netherlands putting together some of the total football they are renonwed for, and Germany marching towards South Africa with increased efficiency. Outside Europe, genuine contenders do look hard to come by. Brazil seem to lack quality in the middle of the pitch, with youngsters Anderson and Hernanes still waiting for a run in the first team, coach Dunga preferring the ageing Gilberto Silva and unpredictable Elano. Argentina, although able to call upon the attacking force of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, and growing under the guidance of Maradonna, sufferred a 6-1 annihilation against lowly Bolivia recently. Inane at this point to write off the South American greats, and with Chile and Paraguay impressing, the continent may still produce the World Cup winner, even if this time around their teams seem weaker.

By 2010 England should have been able to build a formidable and talented squad to tackle the world’s best, as the quality of players at Capello’s disposal has no doubt increased in recent seasons. Even if only 40% of the Premiership is made up of English players, as the Italian tactician is quick to point out, this just highers the levels of performance expected of them and many young homegrown players are thriving under these conditions. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor are attempting the crack the top four monopoly with Aston Villa, Theo Walcott is ever improving under the tutelage of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, Leighton Baines, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka impressing at Goodison Park and Ben Foster beginning to show signs of being a top drawer keeper at Manchester United. Some of these players will play a key part in South Africa, the rest add to the strengh and depth of the squad that is becoming much more apparent in this England team than those of previous seasons.

I feel England, with all these considerations taken into account, have as good as chance as any team to win the 2010 World Cup. The squad is robust, united and has a fair amount of flair amongst it. In recent tournaments, poor decisions and bad luck contributed to failure, with Eriksson selecting the untested Theo Walcott ahead of safe bets Andy Johnson, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent amid an injury crisis, and penalty shootouts often knocking England out of competitions. If Capello’s team play with the same ambition and drive they have done so in the qualifying games then England’s so called Golden Generation may bring back the most coveted prize in football.

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April 2, 2009 - Posted by | Football

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