It is the view of many in this country that next summer England will have their best chance in recent memory of lifting the World Cup. Personally I think that in terms of personnel the real opportunity was in 2006, but injuries to key players and a manager that lacked inspiration cost England the opportunity. This time round, Fabio Capello’s impressive record in competitive games with England has bred a new wave of confidence; the two displays against Croatia in particular are cited as examples of England’s strength. Capello has struck upon a system that works and the team breezed through qualifying scoring 34 goals (the most of any European side). But personally I am sceptical about England’s chances.
The position of goalkeeper is a massive problem and this is no longer a secret. David James is presumed to be Capello’s number one, but his season has been truncated by a series of injuries and it is uncertain whether he will be able to handle the rigours of tournament football. Not to mention the fact that when he has played, James has been far short of his best. Aside from James the options are not strong; Ben Foster appears to be in Capello’s plans but the United man has had a dreadful season for his club, his Carling Cup heroics have long been forgotten and the more immediate memories are of a string of errors that have led to goals. Robert Green is another that many had high hopes for, but his form too has been poor; errors have been far too common and with a difficult season ahead with West Ham, Green’s confidence may have taken a real hit by the summer. Goalkeeping errors can be fatal to a nation’s hopes in international tournaments; Petr Cech’s howler at Euro 2008 gifted Turkey passage to the next round at the expense of his own side. Winning the World Cup without a reliable goalkeeper is a very difficult task.
Not too long ago, England’s centre-backs were the envy of the world; it was the one position where there were no worries for the manager or the fans. Not so now; John Terry is the captain and a top player; he is a dominant figure and would start for any team in the word. But who should partner him? Terry’s slight lack of pace means that his partner must be able to compensate and Rio Ferdinand is still first-choice. Last year Ferdinand was playing at his best; he was imperious for both club and country. But now he is suffering badly with injuries that could cause a big problem if he is unable to play all the matches in South Africa. In addition to the worries about his fitness, his form has also been poor and his brief appearances this season are most noteworthy for the number of high-profile errors. If this had happened last year there would have been no problem as Lescott could have stepped in, but the Manchester City has looked a shadow of his former self and his presence in the team would leave no fan confident of a clean sheet. The other options are Upson and Wes Brown; both good players but hardly players that would concern the top strikers in the world.
In Gerrard and Lampard, England have two of the best players of the last decade in their team. But Gerrard in particular has had a poor season, struggling with his usual injuries, his performances have not been up to scratch. Liverpool could normally turn to their captain when they struggle but this season he has not been able to deliver when it matters; the recent performance against Everton was probably the worst of his career. Gareth Barry is another who seems certain to start for England but his form too has been poor. Awesome at Aston Villa, he has faded into mediocrity at Manchester City, more worryingly he has been making bad mistakes for England; Capello needs to deal with this issue soon.
A strange point given England’s fine record in qualifying, but the group was hardly filled with quality defences. England rely heavily on Wayne Rooney going forward and no wonder with goal-shy Emile Heskey as his partner. Heskey seems set to start every game for England and in the big games, chances come at a premium; would you be confident if they were falling to the big man?
Lack of depth
England’s lacklustre display against Brazil showed that there is a worrying lack of top quality players waiting in reserve. If England suffer injuries (virtually a guarantee) and suspensions during the tournament the fringe players may not be capable of hurting the big teams.
Spain and Brazil
Seriously, Spain and Brazil are so much better than England right now.
Reasons to be positive
This has been a fairly pessimistic article so I’ll finish with some hope. England’s greatest strength is Fabio Capello, a good manager is more valuable than a good team and with his vision and talent, England certainly have a chance. Add to that the kind draw which gives England the opportunity to build some momentum and there is still a chance of ending the wait for success. It’s just not a big chance.