Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup: The Team That Could Win It For England

In what is vaguely a 4-2-3-1.....

Hart; Johnson, King, Terry, A. Cole; Lampard, Barry; Lennon, Gerrard, J. Cole; Rooney.

This is reliant on a few things. Firstly, Ledley King will need to make it back for the vital closing stages. None of Carragher, Upson or Dawson are ideal partners for the sometimes ponderous but still capable John Terry. This would also free up Carragher to, if necessary, play right-back against more proficient opposition who could expose the vulnerable Johnson.

Gareth Barry needs to come back, and fit. While not the most pyrotechnic of players, he is clearly a vital cog in the England machine, one for whom Capello sees no viable alternative. With Barry in the team, it will be more difficult to get at England's potentially shaky back four. He'll also bring the ability to build moves from the middle, rather than hoofing it to Heskey all the time.

Speaking of which, my team will only come into being if Capello drops Heskey, which does seem unlikely. There is a school of thought, and it is one to which I partly belong, that Heskey rightly commands a place because he allows Rooney to play his best. Rooney's goal tally with Heskey compared to without suggests that there is some validity to this. But Rooney has just had his best season for United playing as a lone striker, and if Capello really wants England to adopt a passing game, he should strengthen his midfield and remove the temptation, in the shape of Heskey, for England's defence and midfield to launch high, long, and largely ineffective passes into the opposition's third, thus ceding possession too often.

Joe Cole is at the centre of this matter. The fact that he was included in the squad suggests that Capello believes he is ready and is willing to use him. But there still seems a hesitation. When Barry returns, the likelihood is that Gerrard will be shunted out to the nominally left-wing position in which he spent the qualifying campaign. Gerrard's most effective position is as a midfielder without defensive duties- with Lampard and Barry doing the donkey work, a 4-2-3-1 would free the Liverpool man up to link with Rooney, Cole and Lennon and try to rediscover his old dynamic self. His time on the left for England and, a few seasons ago, on the right for Liverpool, would also facilitate a level of interchange between Gerrard, Cole and Lennon. Cole could move centrally to try to weave some magic; Lennon could move left to test out the other full-back. If the intention is to play some passing, attacking football, surely this trio supporting Rooney is the most potentially devastating option. And this line-up is adaptable, with the possibility of Gerrard withdrawing further back into midfield when the extra man is needed. Perhaps the issue for Capello is that Lennon and Cole do not have the work rate to help their full-backs as much as he would like.

I know I derided England for their performance against the USA, but this World Cup has been so poor so far that a mediocre winner is perfectly plausible. Don't forget, Greece won Euro 2004, and the European Championships are arguably harder to win, what with less teams and tougher groups. Fabio Capello is probably the best manager, in terms of pedigree, at the World Cup, although pretty inexperienced in international tournaments. The team that everyone would expect to make the most of England's weaknesses have lost their first game. Now, if Spain do qualify for the second round, they are quite likely to be playing Brazil. In that scenario, the quarter-finals would include only one team that England should truly fear. I fancy that it will be Brazil.

Other than those two, there are teams with more attacking talent than England, but I would back Capello's ability to set England out to stifle, then sucker-punch, either Germany or Holland. Argentina, with a coach who ought to swap his tracksuit for a strait jacket, are bound to self-destruct at some point, even if Leo Messi reaches the heady heights of his best form. In fact, their defence and midfield are so ordinary that even a good manager might have struggled. As for France, it seems there is a latent ability in their players, but as I've said before they lack character- this was the case when they fell to pieces against Ireland in the play-off second leg, and it remains so. Raymond Domenech, inept as he is, is hardly the man to guide them far, and their petty in-fighting will prove a hindrance to a team that needs to be harmonious.

In conclusion, it really really really could happen. England could win the World Cup. What it would say about the state of international football does not bear thinking about, nor does the jingoistic bleating that would waft over here from across the Irish Sea for the next fifty years.

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