A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Champions League experience key to England’s hopes in 2010 World Cup

Uefa Champions League LogoSince the formerly entitled European Cup incorporated more than just the champions of European leagues and added a round-robin group phase to create the current Uefa Champions League in 1992, England has only produced three out of the four semi-finalists in three occassions out of a possible seventeen times, so to state an English hegemony on the competition’s modern history may be exaggerated, but considering the fact that they have come in three successive seasons (including this one) from 2007 does suggest a certain dominance from Premier League clubs.

This season’s semi-finals line up as Manchester United against Arsenal and Chelsea facing Barcelona. United got Lampard's goal to put Chelsea through to Semi-Finals of the Champions Leaguethrough against Porto by calling upon superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to hit a spectacular strike which knocked the stuffing out of the home team and re-inforced his credentials as one of the worlds leading players. Arsenal eased into the last four with a solid win at the Emirates stadium against Villareal, a chip from Theo Walcott, stab from Emmanual Adebayor and a penalty from Robin Van Persie sealing an easy victory. Barcelona were in the driving seat for their return leg versus Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena because of their four goal romp the previous week and a goal apiece from midfielders Franck Ribery and Seydou Keita scored a draw on the night, with Josep Guardiola’s men going through on aggregate. The most exciting tie of the round came at Stamford Bridge where Liverpool battled against the odds of a 3-1 deficit to stage an unlikely comeback only to fall to a Franck Lampard strike minutes from time (Pictured, right). 4 goals apiece the second leg ended, with Chelsea’s Alex, Lampard, Didier Drogba and Liverpool’s Fabio Aurelio, Xabi Alonso, Lucas and Dirk Kuyt all getting on the scoresheet with Guud Hidink’s side progressing.

The fact that England has given three out of the four Champions League semi-finalists in triple successive seasons is a fantastic acheivement for the Premier League but what has it done for the Fabio Capello’s national side? Manchester United have been the most consistent of the English sides in that time, appearing in all three semis, and Liverpool the most successful, winning the competition and finishing runners up once since 2007, but it can be said that the Italian coach has only permanently placed Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney as fixtures in his first tam XI from those teams. Capello is often heard to say that although the number of English players in the Premier League is lower than he would like – at around 40% – the strong quality of the players available shines through. If he is basing his view on our league in that way, then surely the Champions League would be the best place to see this quality develop.

It is seen that the experience picked up by English players in this competition will be invaluable in preparing them for international tournaments and continued dominance of our clubs can only be a good thing for the national team, as long as enough homegrown players are involved. It is expected that around 10 English players will play a key part in the semi-finals, and that is excluding the likes of Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs – not yet in the England set up – and long term injury absentees Joe Cole and Owen Hargreaves.

Although it is not known how much the rigours of Champions League football affect the chances of a nation in international competitions, recent winners of the World Cup – Italy, and European Championship – Spain, both have had hugely successful teams in the premier European club competition, and had domestic players plying their trade in those teams that made it to the final stages. Spainard David Villa improved drastically after he transferred to Valencia and got a taste of the Champions League, and David Silva too rounded his game after top level European competition. Italy’s Daniel De Rossi has become a world-class holding midfielder much thanks to his European nights with Roma and the same can be said of Milan’s Andrea Pirlo. Juventus’ defence became the Italian national team’s rearguard as Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon grew as players battling against the best teams from Europe.

From an English point of view it may help with the continued problem of underperforming at major international tournaments. England have recently gone into tournaments harbouring high hopes but have failed to deliver when it has really mattered. But the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool continually making the latter stages of the top European club competition against the best teams in the world may yet have a striking effect on English players.

Theo Walcott chips Arsenal ahead in the second leg against VillarealTheo Walcott, under the guidance of Gunner boss Arsene Wenger, this season threatened to become the sort of right winger that his potential offered. A mainstay in the Arsenal first team thanks to Alex Hleb’s move abroad, Walcott was sorely missed during his injury absence, and 5 goals from 20 starts is a solid return from a striker still learning a more natural wingers role. His quality at club level has began to shone on the international stage too, after his superb hat-trick against Croatia in the World-Cup qualifiers, and the 20-year-old should be allowed to showcase his talent on the right side for England in South Africa next summer, beating off competition from the underperforming David Bentley, ageing David Beckham and potent but inconsistent Aaron Lennon. Theo’s chip against Villareal (left) set Arsenal up to cruise through the quarter-finals, and when fouled in the box in the second-half, ensured safe progress to the last four.

I believe that the experience picked up from Champions League games will stand English players in good stead to do well in international tournaments, starting in South Africa in 2010. I believe our team next summer should bear this in bind, and base itself around these players, with John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney the fulcrum of the squad.

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April 17, 2009 - Posted by | Football

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