The home of football and the English Premier League, it has been more than 40 years since England have last lifted the World Cup when they won it on home soil in 1966. Long gone are the days of Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt and Sir Bobby Charlton and since then, the English squads have met with constant failure despite producing some of football’s greats . The farthest they succeeded in traveling since are the semi- finals of the 1990 World Cup.
The last go- round of England in 2006 was a similar story as they fell in penalties to the Portuguese in the quarter- finals and that may have been the last tours of World Cup duty for David Beckham and Michael Owen. The failure to succeed caused England to replace long-time manager Sven-Göran Eriksson with Steve McClaren, but that replacement also landed in disaster as England did not even qualify for Euro 2008. After having Fabio Capello take over the helm, a strict, winning attitude was instilled by the gaffer and it payed dividends as England went a perfect 9-0-1 in qualification. Most importantly, Capello was also able to solve to mystery of Lampard and Gerrard by deploying Gareth Barry as the defensive fulcrum in midfield, allowing both midfielders to freely roam up front.
The problems: While England’s qualification record seems impeccable, it has had its fair share of problems. The John Terry affair with Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend and Ashley Cole love affairs caused all three English players to be heavily scrutinized and in the aftermath to follow, John Terry was stripped off his captaincy while Wayne Bridge decided to drop out of the English squad. Whilst the captaincy was given to Rio Ferdinand, questions have emerged about his leadership abilities and whether he can patch up a broken English dressing room. An ankle injury picked up by Gareth Barry has made him an uncertainty for the Cup campaign and that could be a pivotal for Capello with Carrick out of form and Hargreaves’ lack of playing time. Questions also lay over mistake- prone David James and his credibility for the English goalie position that has been shaky since Seaman was at the helm in 2004.
The man to watch: Wayne Rooney: This was a breakout season for the Manchester United hitman who came out of the shadows of the departed Cristiano Ronaldo to bad 34 goals this season. But deja vu also struck again as he was hampered by ankle and groin problems towards the end of the Premiership campaign and there are growing concerns over his fitness. He has brushed off the injury speculation and says he is fully fit for the World Cup campaign. There will be immense pressure for him to deliver and replicate that Euro 2004 campaign that put him on the map.
Prediction: All in all, this is nearly the same English squad from World Cup squad of 2006 and has the talent at all positions. Capello was able to fix the hole the hole that Wayne Bridge left by coaxing Carragher out of retirement and further strengthen the backline led by Ferdinand and Terry. The Barry situation is a major concern for Capello, but the midfield is too talented with the presence of Lampard and Gerrard. This will be a watershed tournament for the English as most of the regulars are well into their 30’s and could well be their last donning the Three Lions. With a talent coach, the English have a realistic chance to win the WC and expect them to go far.
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