Fabio Capello has undeniably resurrected England since his official appointment by the FA on 14 December 2007. No one can deny his credentials with an impressive trophy haul during his managerial time at club level (Real Madrid, Milan, Roma, where he brought their first major trophy in a decade, Juventus, and Real again). However he may lack the resources needed to mount a serious threat on the biggest football stage.
Having said this Capello has won seven from seven (albeit against underwhelmingly poor opposition) in the World Cup Qualifiers so far with 4 points needed (mathematically) to secure qualification but in reality one more win should do it. England have scored an impressive 26 goals, only conceded 4 and Rooney is top scorer with eight.
Since Mclaren was given his marching orders after missing out on Euro 2008 England have lost only twice. Two international friendlies, away from home, against France and Spain saw Capello taste defeat for the first time as England manager. In Paris England fell short to a Frank Ribery penalty. The game against Spain was a good test against the reigning European champions (2-0) and an example of the level of opposition that England may be coming up against in the future.
But what exactly is wrong with England’s team? The spine of a team starts at the back, with a keeper, so clearly this is something England need to work on. It seems that no goalkeeper has been able to really fill David Seaman’s boots. Paul Robinson has continuously made mistakes to prevent him from sealing the number one shirt.
Robert Green did not have to do anything against Andorra. He was so bored he requested to have his studs replaced in the middle of the game. There are many more unproven goalkeepers and many would irk at the thought of giving 38 year old David James or even the younger Scott Carson another go. So, step up Ben Foster? Joe Hart? Ross Turnbull?
Either way its not the best preparation for a World Cup; not to have a proven, and undeniable no.1 keeper. Take a look at the other sides: Spain have three excellent keepers in Casillas, Lopez and Reina. Italy have Buffon, Brazil have Cesar and the trend continues.
Next up the defence. This is the least of England’s concerns. With Glen Johnson providing some pin-point crosses and superb delivery against Andorra, he produced one his best ever performances and will surely cement his place at right-back. One could not ask for better centre-halves in Ferdinand and Terry and Ashley Cole still has some dodgy moments but does the business. Bridge, Upson, Cahill and Lescott all provide adequate cover.
Again, in midfield England have so many talented players to choose from but some of the younger players (Young, Wright-Philips, Milner) still have a lot to prove. Walcott for example did not perform particularly well against Andorra and lacks the finish, which is the same criticism that has been made of Aaron Lennon. Beckham soldiers on and quite rightly deserves his place in the squad, purely based on the second to none quality of his set-pieces, crossing and passing.
Gareth Barry and Owen Hargreaves are the defensive minded central midfielders but with both injured who would fill that role? Past experiences have demonstrated that playing Gerrard and Lampard in the middle of the park, categorically does not work. As United showed in Rome; if at least one of your central midfielders is not there to soak up and halt the attacks then a team like Spain could produce some devastating attacking football.
Lastly up front: this could potentially be England’s biggest concern. Owen is finished, the thirty-one year old Emile Heskey hardly inspires fans with confidence to go on and win a major tournament. Rooney undeniably has the talent and skill to score goals but he really does lack a striking partner…
As was shown last night there is a serious lack of talent up front. Both Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch showed their frailties, missing sitters, scuffing the ball and heading wide. Crouch especially, despite scoring 16 goals in 34 appearances does not merit a starting place and the likes of Carlton Cole, James Vaughan, Frazier Campbell or Gabriel AgbonlahorÃ‚Â are being denied a chance to shine.
The next two games (Holland and Slovenia) will allow Capello to put his players to the test once again and help him tweak the team in preparation for hosting Croatia at Wembley, again, on the 9th of September where England fans will be hoping for revenge. No one needs to be reminded of the pain of not travelling to Switzerland/Austria last summer after suffering a humiliating 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Croats.
As the FIFA website under England’s profile says, “The first nation of football and the global distributor of the game, England are big on passion but short on actual prizes”, which could not be closer to the truth. Time now to see if ‘Don Fabio’ and his players can deliver…
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