As the World Cup draws closer and closer, like your birthday or Christmas back when you actually cared about either, the trepidation and excitement grows tangibly more potent with each passing day. As us English currently engage in one activity we do extremely well, tearing down national icons in the media, now’s as good a time as any to look ahead to something we do equally well, messing up at major international tournaments.
Lets be completely honest here, England got a very good group. Only the USA seem, on paper, to cause any sort of trouble. But this is England, an England led by the experienced iron fist of Fabio Capello yes, but England non the less. If there are any potential banana skins to slip up on, you can be sure we’ll do our very best to get as close to them as is humanly possible. So who are the players who might leave these banana skins? Who do England need to be wary of in their group?
Landon Donovan – USA: The obvious choice straight off the bat, but still probably the right one to go with. The American national sawker team reads like a list of B-movie actors and newsreaders in a bad soap. Robbie Rogers, Chad Marshall, Dax McCarty, Heath Pearce, I mean who on earth is naming these people? It’s a sketch surely? If I hadn’t seen Clint Dempsey in the flesh I’d be sceptical he was a real person. Regardless of this though, Donovan is their MVP, as they’re so wanton to call it in the States. MLS player of the season just gone and now busy being a hypocrite at Everton after slamming David Beckham for moving away on loan during off season. His form for the Toffees has been good. Very good in fact so far, and at 27 he’s younger than his hairline suggests (which could give us a clue as to why he was so angry with Beckham) so it seems highly probable that he’ll end up stuffing the country in which he currently finds himself employed. Football loves nothing more than a delicious irony, though it wouldn’t actually be an irony at all, but it would in the way most Americans understand irony so I think I can get away with that one. We all remember Ahn Jung-hwan (don’t we?), the former South Korean Perugia player who knocked his adopted country out of the World Cup in a gloriously controversial second round clash and was promptly sacked by the Italian club’s chariman in a hilariously childish hissy fit. Could the same happen to Donovan? No, clearly not, plus he’ll be back in the MLS by then anyway. Still, if anyone is going to ruin England’s party, Donovan seems the most likely man to do it
Antar Yahia – Algeria: Reigning Algerian and Arab Player of the Year, beating off strong competition from…..erm….Yahia is a national hero in Algeria. A rugged but agile central defender, he compounded his hero status by scoring a Marco van Basten-esque goal to send his country to the World Cup finals, for the first time in 24 years, in their rowdy play off against hated foes Egypt. A feat made even more impressive by the Pharaohs recent African Nations Cup triumph. He almost signed for Leeds 3 years ago, but opted to ply his trade in the Bundesliga where he currently plays for Vfl Bochum. Yahia will most likely be the player tasked with stopping Wayne Rooney, but could also be a threat from set pieces at the other end. Just don’t let him volley it.
Rene Krhin – Slovenia: 19 year old Krhin is the next big thing in Slovenian football, if such a thing is possible. Captain of the U-19 side, and just starting to get his chances at Inter under Jose Mourinho, the midfielder is a tricky customer. He made his debut for the national side in their 2-1 loss to England last September, so with football being cyclical and enamoured with irony (sort of) it stands to reason he’ll probably end up making a name for himself in that very game. He’s looked assured in his brief outings in Italy, and despite their brevity, he’s recently signed a deal that will keep him at the Milan club until 2014. Clearly thought of highly by the Nerazzuri coaching staff, could the World Cup be the making of him?
A.N.Other – England – And of course the main player to look out for this summer, the one who will almost certainly ruin England’s chances of lifting that hideously ugly World Cup, statue, thing, will be an English player. Because it always is. A misplaced back pass, a moment of petulance, an unneeded scything tackle in the box, some ill advised positioning at a free kick, or of course, a penalty miss. An English player is bound to commit one of these at some point during the tournament, and even if none of these things happen, the British press will find someway to tie one of them to someone, and then never let them forget it. This year we’re in the odd position of tearing down one of our players before the World Cup’s even started so maybe we’ll have it out of our systems by the time we are eventually knocked out at the quarter finals on penalties to the Germans. If that’s the only thing to come out of the John Terry sex scandal, it’s already a good thing.