There are now just under 100 days to go till the 2010 World Cup kicks off. I am aware that it would be silly to try and predict the way things are going to unfold this June but I thought I would examine the state of the English team as the summer approaches. Even though I have briefly touched upon the England squad when talking about the John Terry saga and Ashley Cole's injury, this time I shall look in more detail at the whole squad instead.
Tonight's match against Egypt is the last before Capello will name his preliminary squad in May and the England side that is predicted to start is not one that fills me with any great confidence. People have been saying all year that we have to be considered one of the hot favourites for the tournament. This is of course the usual chat that comes around before every major tournament but in reality the class does not seem to be present in the squad to warrant such talk - 3rd favourites at 11/2 is typical English optimism.
Sources have tonight's probable line-up as something like this:
Green/Hart, Brown, Upson, Terry, Baines, Walcott, Lampard, Barry, Gerrard, Rooney, Heskey/Crouch.
There are problems for me throughout the line up. In goal none of the keepers are without fault. James, Hart and Green will be competing for the number 1 shirt yet none of them are certainties because none combine the quality and consistency to make them a shoe-in. The defence is of just as great a concern. Baines may be a good developing player but is unproven on the international stage. As for Brown and Upson, are these players good enough to cope with the best attacking players in the world, not for me.
In midfield Walcott is nowhere near the 'finished article'. Barry is a safe player who does a good job while Lampard and Gerrard are both quality players who's place in the team is unquestionable. Rooney is one of, if not the, best players in the world on his current form and no doubt all England fans will be hoping he remains on this form and injury free till June. Unfortunately we lack a second world-class striker to play along side him. Heskey may help Rooney's game but in himself is not a great player. Defoe can score goals but is not the ideal strike partner for Wayne. This leaves Crouch and Carlton Cole as the other options but I would not rely on either to deliver on the biggest stage in football.
I am not saying that these are not good players, they are just not great players. To win the World Cup then you will need to beat the likes of Spain, Brazil and Argentina and I would not put my faith in some of these players to help us do so. Many of the players I have isolated as worries are not, of course, first choice options. Cole, Lennon, Johnson and Ferdinand are all usual starters who are unavailable. Yet this does act to highlight the lack of strength of depth there is in the England squad right now.
We still are relying so heavily on a handful of top quality players. Beyond these players, however, is where the concern lies. If we lose Rooney or a couple of other starters, like in defence tonight, then I do not believe we would be able to beat our other main World Cup competitors. It will be interesting to see how tonight's game unfolds and how the team is able to perform in a game they ought to win even against an Egypt team that is not without it's strengths.
One of our great strengths lies in the form of our manager. Capello has generated much of the optimism as he finally seems to be getting the best out of the players. His comments on the problem of the huge wages in the squad was refreshing to hear from a manager as his no nonsense approach has been a great success. Despite my worries about the squad, the management of the squad does go some way to ease such concerns.
Perhaps I am being too pessimistic about England's chances but tonight's team has revealed the fragility of the squad and it is because of the lack of quality in depth in all positions that I see the 11/2 odds as very flattering. Of course, the need to keep key players injury free is a universal concern, I would believe the other main contenders are better equipped to cope with such problems if they arise.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...