Friday, 16 October 2009

The who's who of World Cup 2010

On 15th October in 1946 Hermann Goering poisoned himself the night before his execution. That was a genuine tragedy as justice could not be served upon one of history’s most evil men. But like the two sides of justice – right and wrong – football is a game of two halves. And it is in that spirit my father, a real football man, always said to me "you can never write off the Germans."

Indeed, going into the world cup the Euro 2008 finalists Germany have been largely ignored despite negotiating a tricky qualifying group containing Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia, with media coverage extending mainly to the exploits of Brazil, Spain and England. A situation perhaps justified because while Germany demonstrated their usual efficiency the question remains whether their side is truly world class?

While the German campaign was characteristically solid, the two most eye-catching performers in the UEFA qualifiers were undoubtedly England and Spain. The European Champions romped home with a perfect 10 out of 10 record, plundering 28 goals in the process and conceding only 5. With a world class line-up containing a number of Barcelona’s all-conquering superstars of 08/09 alongside the world’s best striker Fernando Torres they are unquestionably the team to beat. The splendid Spaniards are a joy to watch with their tantalizing triangles and perfect passing, a pure footballing team. Surprisingly Torres, the world’s leading marksman, failed to notch a single goal in the qualifiers, unluckily enduring a somewhat frustrating time on the fringes of most games, almost ominously quiet in the lead up to the big event - form is temporary, class is permanent. It would take a brave man to bet against them, no question about it, though one must question whether they’ll be up for a proper physical battle should they face such opposition?

Meanwhile, England showed bouncebackability in the wake of their Euro 2008 humiliation by storming to victory in their group despite a number of question marks hanging over the team. Goalkeeping problems remain, with the ageing David James seemingly first choice ahead of the fantastic Bob Green of West Ham, though neither are world class. The timeless left-wing problem remains, with the world’s most complete all-round midfield player Steven Gerrard having been shunted out to the left, much like Rooney for Man U in past seasons, in order to accommodate Frank Lampard who is incapable of playing together with Gerrard in his natural-born central midfield position. Can England really get the best out of Gerrard by playing him out of position?? Gareth Barry partners Lampard in central midfield at Gerrard’s expense, and while the Manchester City grafter will give 110% and cover every blade of grass, is he really a world class performer? At the end of the day Gerrard is England’s best player and probably the best player in the world. England have to acknowledge that Gerrard is the best player and build the team around him. He is England’s Maradona, Zidane, Platini, Ronaldo (the Brazillian) etc. The others have to understand that he is the most talented and most important player. There has to be hierarchy of responsibility and respect for a team to win a major championship. The outstanding player has to be given the freedom to influence games and perform to his best. England have to get the message through to the Lampards and Rooneys etc that they have to play for Gerrard and England.

Up front, England are as conflicted as ever. Emile Heskey provides physical presence and a selfless work ethic but remains incapable of finishing the simplest of chances. You can’t help but feel that in some of the matches where Heskey fluffed numerous opportunities, Jermain Defoe could have had a hat trick! The Tottenham Hotspur sharpshooter is a natural predator who never misses a chance, and in tight games at critical moments, it’s a no brainer who you’d rather have that crucial chance fall to! If Capello must go for a big man up front, then surely Peter Crouch should get the nod with his excellent international scoring record. Moreover, he offers far more than Emile Heskey ever could, with people often forgetting that Crouch has a great touch for a big man as well as an imposing aerial threat. The real problem, as always, is whether any of Rooney’s potential striking partners are really world class? Most of Crouch and Defoe’s goals have come against poor opposition, so if Rooney isn’t firing where are the goals going to come from? Looking through the England team, similar problems are evident. Is the defensively suspect Glen Johnson actually world class? Who will play on the right? Lennon? Wright-Phillips? Walcott? They are full of pace, power, technique and enthusiasm but are any of them really world class? Can Beckham still do it at this level?

England have struggled to become a genuine footballing side to rival the likes of Spain who play the game the way it’s meant to be played, with their passing disjointed and movement often lacking. They play like eleven individuals rather than a team. One wonders whether relocating Steven Gerrard to his natural position in the midfield engine room would help rectify this situation, with his world class passing ability enabling the team to dovetail more effectively. Again, it seems odd not to play the world’s greatest central midfielder in central midfield. England can’t compete with the best without developing a free flowing passing game.

Moving onto South America, perennial world cup challengers Brazil are the main, probably only threat. The samba boys swashbuckled their way through the qualifiers as always, playing the right way and dazzling their opponents into submission with the silky skills of the likes of Kaka and Robinho. They are perhaps not the greatest in defence, but when have they ever been? For Brazil such things are of no concern, with careless defending and dodgy goalkeeping a happy concession to allow for exhilarating attacking play. What more can be said about Brazil than "watch out"? Stopping Brazil, like Spain, may be like trying to resist an irresistible force. You just know they’ll be there or thereabouts come the latter stages.

To conclude, it’s a big ask, but if Capello and England could treat the impostors of triumph and disaster the same going into the world cup, then maybe ours would be "the earth and everything that's in it", as Kipling would say - and "which is more" the England national team would be "a man, my son!"

satirical if you hadn't guessed.
if you hadn't you're humourless

No comments:

Post a Comment