A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Why England fans can be confident this summer: of a place in the Semi-Finals but not of taking home the World Cup

The sense of blind optimism and nationalist pride that overcomes our nation in the build-up to a world cup offers only one success that the England football team can achieve this summer – winning our second tournament. (1st in 1966)
In fairness, we created the game, offer the world the best league – English Premiership and can boast a plethora of talented players – Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney to list the country’s most household of names.

However we certainly lack tradition in the competition, with just the solitary win pale in comparison with Brazil’s 5, Italy’s 4, Germany’s 3. Uruguay and Argentina’s have won the tournament twice, whilst France have also triumphed once. Having said that when you look at the teams that have never picked up the most coveted prize in world football, such as Holland’s total football side of the 1970’s, (who came runners-up twice, in 1974 and 1978) Spain’s talented teams since the millennium (who may well come away as first-time winners in South Africa this year) and Portugal’s Eusebio and Cristiano Ronaldo inspired outfits (who came 3rd in 1966 and 4th in 2006) not to mention nations of the past who have flourished at World Cups gone by, such as the Laudrop brothers’ Denmark, Roger Milla’s Cameroon and Davor Suker’s Croatia; then that lauded 1966 achievement doesn’t look so bad after all.

The World Cups are usually won by the Elite, the best teams in the world who have the tournament know-how and ability to go all the way. Contrasting with the European Championships, which recently unheralded Greece won, often on the World stage a dark horse doesn’t overtake the cemented pack, and one of the favourites lifts the trophy. This year the favourites consist of Spain, Brazil and England. Closely followed or arguably included in this group are Argentina, Italy, Germany, France and Holland. How much money is likely to be bet on teams outside of that select? Hardly any I would have thought.

So, England going into the World Cup of 2010 have a one in eight chance of winning the tournament. It probably isn’t as easily factored as that, but therefore should be looking at a position in the quarter-finals at least. When considering that it is where we have reached in 7 previous WC’s, and the last two, it is probably fair to consider that our ‘glass ceiling’. We have broken this so called ‘glass ceiling’ on two occasions, our 4th place finish at Italia 90 (remembered more for Gazza’s tears and Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle’s penalty misses) and our finest moment in 1966. (Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton et al)
Aside from this we can consider ourselves quarter-finalists, a feat achieved by Sven-Goran Eriksson in both his England campaigns in 2002 and 2006.

2010 is England’s chance again to break the mould, and one that I believe this team will achieve. Our ‘golden generation’ of players is likely to experience their last World Cups this summer, including Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, such is the talent coming through being honed in the Premiership.
We have the vital ingredients to be successful in Africa, such as an experienced and talented squad, a respected and accomplished manager and a determination to triumph.

In Wayne Rooney, England hold an ace in the pack, with his temperament and fitness in good shape, with Ashley Cole, contain a world-class modern fullback and attacking promise in the figure of Lampard, Gerrard, Milner and Lennon.
Theo Walcott’s omission was surprising, but one not likely to alter the dynamics of the squad. He is replaced by a like-for-like winger in Shaun Wright-Phillips.
The squad selected by Capello has relative strength in depth, with Jamie Carragher, Ledley King, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe all ready to step in if needed.
Considering the fixtures against Mexico and Japan recently, I would be tempted (if I was manager) to line-up as a fluid and flexible 4-2-3-1, which can pile on the pressure in attacking situations with an almost 4 prong strike force and retreat into a 4-5-1 formation when defensively stretched. Of course if midfield lynchpin Gareth Barry is ruled out, then you may have to reconsider, although Capello and the England coaching staff have indicated the Man City man is likely to miss out solely on England’s first fixture, against the U.S.A.

Another question mark is over the goalkeeping spot. Rob Green has been the custodian of the shirt over the past 12 months, although David James has been given the no.1 shirt, an indicator that he may be the starting ‘keeper, and Joe Hart has impressed everyone with his reflexes, authoritative style and command of his area. I back Hart as a future England ‘keeper for years to come, but would advocate the age and experience of David James, also above the 7/10 Rob Green.
Does the Lampard-Gerrard axis still trouble England? Should Milner play on the left or right, or centre? Should Heskey partner Rooney when he can’t score goals? And who is on the list for penalties? All the answers to these questions will become apparent on June the 12th, England’s first game and conclusions will be ascertained a month later after the final at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Until then, let’s enjoy a carnival of football and not put too much pressure on our heroes!

World Cup Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
GK – David James
RB – Glen Johnson
CB – John Terry
CB – Ledley King
LB – Ashley Cole
MC – Gareth Barry
MC – Frank Lampard (V-C)
AMC – Steven Gerrard (C)
AMR – Aaron Lennon
AML – James Milner
ST – Wayne Rooney

[ammended after Rio Ferdinand’s injury]

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June 3, 2010 - Posted by | Football

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