England’s last two World Cup campaigns are both remembered for the team’s failings on the pitch, questionable decisions by then Head Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and high-profile metatarsal injuries on the eve of the tournament. David Beckham travelled to Japan and South Korea clearly unfit and out of sorts during the tournament, as did Wayne Rooney for Portugal three years ago. An unfit, frustrated Rooney was even detrimental to the side, reacting badly to a challenge from Ricardo Carvalho. This is something that current manager Fabio Capello categorically ruled out when questioned over the weekend: “The players with us in South Africa will all be fit. It’s impossible to wait for one player. Little things are okay, but bigger problems and they will not be there.”
A metatarsal injury, or something on a similar scale, will clearly fall into the latter category meaning all players will be walking that tightrope as the season progresses. Rooney in particular will be worried following the fate he has suffered at the last two major tournaments England has been involved in. Not that any of us would wish any harm on the Manchester United man, but it would make for very interesting viewing should Rooney suffer an injury towards the back-end of the season meaning he could make the tournament but would travel without being 100% fit. Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard outlined Rooney’s importance to the side by uttering the following sentiments: “He’s the most talented guy in our team and the best I’ve played with for England. He can create and score goals out of nothing”.
Rooney is without doubt the best attacking threat England carries going into the tournament – his goal-scoring record in qualifying is testament to this, but more than that he is the only player in the team to operate in the hole, creating as many as he puts away himself. He is the only player in the squad who cannot be replaced. If, for example, Steven Gerrard was unfit it would open the door for someone like Joe Cole who provides a different threat to the Liverpool man but is often as effective. There is an argument for Gerrard to play in the Rooney position as he does so effectively for Liverpool behind Fernando Torres, but this writer believes that the potent nature of this partnership is as much down to Torres’s fantastic ability as Gerrard’s and it is certainly up for debate whether the Liverpool captain would have the same influence behind the likes of Emile Heskey.
This is all hypothetical, however, and in a few months’ time, with the immediate future for Capello’s England being the much-maligned friendly against Brazil in Doha this weekend. The Premier League managers have been less than complimentary regarding the decision to play the match, but Capello feels it is imperative for his side to face a team from South America – and one of the favorites for the tournament. Although obviously hailing from that famous footballing continent, there is not so much of the traditional South American about this Brazil team. They rely so much on the strength and brawn in the centre with the likes of Gilberto Silva holding them together. They are strong throughout the spine of the team with Lucio, Gilberto and Luis Fabiano and powerful out wide, utilising such players as Maicon to provide power alongside the deft Brazilian touch as seen in teams of old. In short, they are well organised, methodical, and successful, and will provide a tough test to England. They have run away with the South American qualification for the World Cup but this writer believes that a recent performance will provide England with much hope ahead of the friendly and, more importantly, ahead of this summer.
Against the USA in the final of the Confederations Cup, both of the American goals were scored on the break after the Brazilians had over-committed. Landon Donavon and Clint Dempsey were excellent, breaking quickly and punishing the South Americans. England’s recent performances have shown a lot of strength down the flanks in big encounters, most notably home and away against Croatia. The way that England broke, especially in the way away match against Croatia, was one of the best lessons of counter-attacking football seen in recent years and there is no doubt that this team has the capability to reach those heights again.
Unfortunately, for this match, the two star performers from the Croatia performances, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, are both missing through injury but the tactics may remain the same. Capello will believe that England have enough to contain their illustrious opponents and more than enough to inflict some damage at the opposite end. Brazil will play their own game meaning that the full-backs will bomb forward at every opportunity, leaving space in-behind. This could provide an ideal opportunity for the likes of James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips and possibly Darren Bent to stake a claim for a place in the squad as a top performance against Brazil certainly cannot be ignored.
Let us not get carried away, this is simply a friendly and somewhat of a money-making exercise, but one thing that is sure is that Fabio Capello will get the most that he possibly can out of this game. He will start with his strongest team and many of the top players will play at least 60-70 minutes, meaning that this may in fact prove a good indicator as to how far England has come under the Italian. In the last two World Cups, England has struggled when defending deep, trying to protect a one-goal lead, and unable to punish the opposition on the break. This side under Capello looks to have solved those previous deficiencies, with this weekend’s match possibly the first real opportunity to prove that against world-class opposition.
August 12, 2009 – 19:45 – Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam
Holland 2-2 England – Kuyt 10, van der Vaart 38 – Defoe 49, 77
– ECF – Three Lions gear up for ‘ridiculous’ friendly – August 11, 2009
– Match report
– England Analysis – Superior England spoiled by shocking errors
September 5, 2009 – 17:30 – Wembley, London
England 2-1 Slovenia – Lampard 31, Defoe 63 – Ljubijankic 83
– ECF – Calm before the storm – September 3, 2009
– Match Report
– England Analysis – Tepid dress rehearsal sparked by Defoe
September 9, 2009 – 20:00 – Wembley, London
England 5-1 Croatia – Lampard 8 (pen), 59, Gerrard 18, 66, Rooney 77 – Eduardo 73
– ECF – Rooney to meet his supposed mentor – September 8, 2009
– England Analysis – Sweet revenge for superb England
– ECF – England finds form, then more questions – September 12, 2009
October 10, 2009 – 17:15 – Dnipro Arena, Dnipropetrovsk
Ukraine 1-0 England – Nazarenko 29 (Green sent off 15)
– ECF – Beckham is going to the World Cup – October 6, 2009