World Cup 2010 is only a tantalising few days away now when the eyes of the globe will be firmly set on South Africa and the greatest football show on earth. Spain, Brazil and Argentina go into the tournament as three of the countries favoured to win the title along with outside bets such as holders Italy, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands.
And what of England?
The memory of Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy back in 1966 at Wembley Stadium is sure to be aired in the days leading up to England’s World Cup opener against the USA on June 12 as a reminder of the one previous moment in history when English football was number one.
The current England squad enter the 2010 World Cup tournament in decent shape and on the back of a hugely encouraging qualifying campaign which saw nine wins and only a single loss garnered from Group 6.
The appointment of Fabio Capello as manager has brought stability, unity, discipline and a clear game plan to the English international setup. Capello certainly has the managerial acumen and leadership qualities to steer this group of English players a long way in the competition.
The question is can England go all the way? Here are three reasons why I think England can.
Wayne Rooney is simply the key to England’s success this summer. A magnificent return of 44 goals for Manchester United this past season marks him down as one of the top in-form strikers in World football heading to South Africa. If Rooney stays fit he will prove a handful for any defence as his all-round game has improved so dramatically in the last 12 months.
The big question for Capello is who to play alongside Rooney (if anyone at all) in spearheading England’s attack. Peter Crouch has proven a terrific foil for Jermaine Defoe at Spurs this season and could easily reprise that role alongside Rooney.
Villa’s Emile Heskey, whilst not an out and out goal-scorer is someone Rooney has always benefitted from playing alongside. Defoe and/or Darren Bent are similar in style to the Man United striker but either could also be used in a 4-4-2 formation.
2. Kind Draw
Group C – on paper at least – is more than negotiable if England play to their full potential. The opener against the USA looks the trickiest of their opening round assignments following the Americans recent exploits at the Confederations Cup (reaching the final).
Algeria and Slovenia are two games England will be targeting victories from, yet both countries will be anxious to gain a point from their encounters in the hope of qualifying for the knockout stage and should provide stiff opposition.
Assuming England top the group, then their round of 16 fixture would be against the runners-up of Group D which is made up of Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana. An encounter with any of the previous three countries mentioned would be winnable – unless Germany screw up, then a humdinger of a knockout tie would be on the cards in a repeat of \’66 and \’70 World Cups – resulting in a potential quarter final with (most likely) Argentina or France.
England has enjoyed some ferocious battles with both countries in previous tournaments but would fear neither Argentina nor France. Once into a semi-final, England would be on the crest of a wave a la 1990 where anything is possible. Brazil and/or Spain are likely to have to be overcome to win the competition outright.
England would be in the unusual position of underdog in both potential semi-final and final but if the nation gets behind them and the squad stays injury free a World Cup victory in Johannesburg is a distinct possibility for England on July 11.
The timing of the 2010 World Cup to coincide with South Africa’s winter period removes the worry of playing in crazy midday temperatures (remember USA 1994?). The humidity England will be playing at could be viewed as a disadvantage but Capello’s sensible decision to organise two training camps at high-altitude in Austria should compensate for this and adequately prepare his squad.
The decision to relocate England to another country in the build-up to the finals is also a rational one on the part of Capello as it removes the players from the day to day blanket media coverage that would no doubt have occurred if they remained on home soil.
Whilst serious questions still remain – the lack of a settled defence or a world class goalkeeper and niggling injuries to key players, England still possesses a real chance of World Cup glory this summer.
If Wayne Rooney strikes form, Lampard, Gerrard and Milner play to their full potential and England’s defence holds up to the toughest of scrutiny then anything is possible.
Many ifs, yet with enough luck and avoiding as many penalty shoot-outs as possible the bottom line is that England can win this summer’s World Cup.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.