After narrowly failing to qualify for Euro 2008, England under Fabio Capello have made quick work of their world cup qualifying group and qualified for the World Cup with relative ease. While the qualification was never in doubt from what was an easy group, England under Capello have been a revelation, especially the manner in which they overcame Croatia, England's bogey team from Euro 2008 qualification.
However, the real test for England and Capello is the World Cup. Capello raised the stakes when he told the reporters that not reaching the final would be a failure. Brave posturing from the seasoned Italian.
Capello has announced the list of 30 players to be pruned to the final list of 23 in the coming weeks. No major surprises except for the surprise un-retirement of Jamie Carragher and the inclusion of the injured Gareth Barry.
The selection of the likes of Michael Dawson, Leighton Baines, Ledley King, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Darren Bent et al, shows that Don Fabio has made good use of his time watching a lot of EPL games to identify and reward the in-form players irrespective of their teams. Only 5 strikers have been named in the list of 30 which means it is almost certain that all of them: Bent, Crouch, Defoe, Heskey and Rooney will in the final squad.
How does England play?
England under Capello have played with lot more discipline than they ever did under Eriksson or McLaren. 4-4-2 formation has been the norm with Rooney as the main striker and Heskey primarily used to take advantage of his size and pull the central defenders to make space for Rooney as well as Lampard or Barry to drive from the midfield. John Terry and King/Carragher will start in the central defence with Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson as the fullbacks. The midfield diamond will have Lampard at the top with Stevie G and Lennon/Milner on the edges and Barry/Carrick at the bottom of the diamond.
Pacy winger Theo Walcott will mostly be used as an impact sub in the 2nd halves. Defoe will most likely be the first change for Heskey especially if England is trailing. Ashley Cole is very good on the left overlapping and supporting the attack.
The problem with this England squad is the imbalance in talent among GK, Midfield, Defence & Forwards. England has a great set of midfield players, very good defense, average GK and average strike force with the exception of one Wayne Rooney.
How will the oppositions play against England?
Oppositions will try to shadow and mark out Rooney, try and limit his impact by dragging him to wide positions. This is the where Emile Heskey's contributions will be crucial. Although he is not a prolific goal-scorer by any means Capello likes him because he has been doing a great job complementing Rooney.
England is not a ball possession team by nature; although the likes of Lampard and Rooney can keep possession against the best and win back the ball. In the group phase they will face Algeria, Slovenia and the USA. None of these teams is known for their possession football so England won’t have to worry a lot about getting starved of the ball. USA seems to be toughest of the three opponents and England open their campaign against USA. USA is a counterattacking team and from the little I know about Slovenia they will also play a counter-attacking game against England. On the surface Algeria seems to be weakest of them ball but be aware that they eliminated the African Champions and the fancied and very talented Egypt.
I predict this group to produce some of the dullest games of the tournament.
How far England will go?
England are in the easy half of the draw, I fancy them to make it to semi-finals.
England should come out of the Group C on top. Then they might run into either Germany/Serbia/Ghana or even the feisty Australia (Group D has no walkover). England has the fire-power to prevail over anyone from group D in the round 2 (unless they run into an in-form Ghana with crowd behind them). We could potentially have a juicy quarter-final or semifinal matchup between England-Argentina (nothing stokes up people like an England- Argentina tie).
Prediction : Losing semi-finalist.
Caption on the team bus: Playing with Pride and Glory >>
Rating: 5/10. In one word, Mundane.