England’s recent form is misleading and their status as one of the favourites to win the World Cup, unjustified.
By Brian Glanville
Lies, damned lies and statistics. England my have won all their World Cup qualifying matches, but does it make them any kind of favourite for South Africa next year? The bookies recently had them I believe in fourth place behind Brazil, Spain and Argentina.
Lord knows what caused them to overrate Argentina so absurdly. Thrashed 5-0 in La Paz by Bolivia, they have proceeded, under the shaky regime of Diego Maradona, to go down 2-0 in Ecuador.
By sharp contrast, the Brazilians, under a previously much criticised Dunga, have maintained the form they showed against Italy at the Arsenal ground last year. Winning 4-0 in Montevideo against the old enemy and sometime bogey team, Uruguay was a formidable achievement followed by a 2-1 home success against Paraguay who had initially been setting the piece in the over populated South American group.
England’s 6-0 victory at Wembley against an Andorra team which like San Marino has absolutely no right or business to be playing in World Cup eliminators, was irrelevant. But the display in Kazakhstan, substantial though the victory ultimately appears was indeed not without its significance; there were worrying aspects.
Glen Johnson may have ultimately and splendidly laid on a goal, but where was he in that embarrassing second minute when he so ineptly lost his man on Kazakhstan’s left flank, the consequent cross so nearly leading to a goal?
And where for that matter was the goalkeeper Green, winning a belated second cap? A question still more embarrassingly relevant when he proceeded to make a dog’s dinner of that inswinging free kick from the right when he himself, kicking out in his despair, believed he had conceded a goal. Only to be saved by the offside flag.
Yes, Beckham got his meaningless last quarter hour and yet another cheap cap. Does he know where the body is buried? Agreed, he did well in his so-called quarterback role against Andorra, but who pray wouldn’t have? How well, if you remember, did he play that role in Cardiff versus Wales and in Belfast against Northern Ireland?
At least Capello had the sense, so lacking in the worshipful Alex Ferguson, to use Wayne Rooney in the middle rather than in exile on the left. But Capello still hasn’t resolved the dualism of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, both anxious for the same space.
Sticking Gerrard notionally, at least, on the left is no answer; if he drifts as he so often does into the middle, he is leaving space for an overlapping opposition right back. Why not let him fill his Liverpool role just behind Wayne Rooney?
Nor am I convinced that Rio Ferdinand, who missed those games, giving Matthew Upson, no real international, two more chances, is the defender he once was. Where was he in the European Cup Final, when a totally unmarked Lionel Messi was allowed to head his Barca goal? England will surely qualify and I don’t think they’ll disgrace themselves in South Africa. But they won’t be winners
And they’ll need a goalkeeper. Green, Carson, Robinson and Calamity James – giving goals away in his familiar generous manner with Pompey late last season – are no solution. Ben Foster looks potentially the best, but when will he ever play?
At Manchester United, the way remains barred by the ageless Van der Sar. So will Foster go out on loan again, as he once so successfully did at Watford where he was first capped? One hopes so. As things stand, the England goal gapes.