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Friday, June 09, 2006

This time England really does expect

Today in London the skies are blue, the sun is shining, the feel-good factor is high, and my feelings on the verge of kick-off related to England's chances can be contrasted to those before World Cup 1998 and 2002, and Euro 2004 and 2000. For those tournaments I didn’t have that innate feeling that England had what it took to be crowned champions. I looked at England compared to our competitors and felt we were one or two levels behind.

But this tournament is different. I look at this England team, then compare it with the opposition, and my feeling is that we do have what it takes. Our first eleven is a match for any of the European sides, and I don’t even feel we are that far behind the favourites Brazil. We have a team that is full of players at the prime playing age of 24-28 years old. And aside from Rooney - who I'm sure will feature at some stage against Sweden - we go into the tournament with everyone fit and available.

Although all the excitement is with the number of gamebreakers England possess - particularly Gerrard and Rooney - I believe England's key strength is their defence. Fundamental to that is that Paul Robinson is now England's number one- and with him in goal we have a goalkeeper that inspires confidence among his teammates and England fans alike. Add the indomitable Chelsea leader John Terry alongside the talented Rio Ferdinand in central defence, plus one of the world's best left-backs, Ashley Cole, and Man Utd's experienced right-back raider Gary Neville in the full back positions, I believe England have a defence that is not bettered by anyone at the World Cup. It has big-match experience, resilience, talent and - with Terry's inclusion - strong leadership at its centre.

England's midfield is also looking very strong. Just 12 months ago Steven Gerrard almost single-handedly inspired Liverpool to Champs League glory, and since then he has had the season of his life adding efficiency and maturity to his amazing talent and workrate (which was recognised here by being named the EFT player of the season!). Frank Lampard was voted number two player at the last FIFA world player of the year awards, which indicates how under Jose Mourinho he has developed into a supremely confident world class central midfielder. Joe Cole has the invention and playmaking ability to surprise defences of any ability, and I relate his ability to come inside off the left hand side as similar to that of the excellent Robert Pires. Finally on the right side, captain David Beckham looks at the top of his game and showed in the World Cup build-up matches that his set-piece delivery is a real weapon for this England team.

England's striking options are where the question marks arise. Is Michael Owen undercooked for World Cup action? Can Peter Crouch REALLY become a world-beater? How much will we really see of Theo Walcott? With such questions I believe that Rooney's comeback into the team against Sweden will be the defining moment for England. If he suffers no ill-reaction he is the player who can add the coup de grace to this powerful England line-up. I believe he will return with a punch because his supreme fearlessness means he won't spend anytime worrying about his foot or his fitness; plus he is a guy who has the raw power, ability and fitness to be back at his fighting best in very little time.

Aside from the all-round talent of the team, I significantly sense from the England players that they genuinely believe they are capable of matching any side and going all the way. Even our notoriously calm manager looks up for the challenge if yesterday's press conference - when Sven turned into 'no more Mr Nice Guy' by telling Alex Ferguson and everyone else in defiant tones that the decision to play Wayne Rooney will be his and Rooney's alone - is anything to go by. This solidifies the impression I have that the whole England squad are especially single-minded and determined for this tournament.

My expectations are high, now I can't wait to see how we deliver!


Blogger RedsMan said...

I ditto your coments, T. There is a sense of something when England is mentioned I regard to the World Cup, and I'm not talking about 1966. The thing with the English is we tend to talk about being better than for years and years but having little to show for it. And I mean little. Brazil have won the cup many times and dont not repeat it, unlike the Premiership-based French players who came from their 1998 and 2000 achievements continuously blaming zealous tackles on jealously because they were World and European Champions. they have not looked the same since.

I believe we can win it, as T said we are little different from any other side. Questionable is our forward line, how hungry will they be, how well will our midfield aid them in front of goal. We hold possession or quickly close down and regain possession, the less they can do with it. England like to settle defensively first and build from the back going forward, while sides like Paraguay like to attack more from the start. Only thing now is to sit back and leave all to Mr Eriksson. Importantly is to win handsomely our first game and psychologically worry the Trinidadians. The Swedes are practically too cool to worry!

Can't wait.


6/09/2006 4:23 pm

Anonymous Nturtle said...

A short one from me...but I think it is fair to say....HALF the world will probably be watching this game...well...almost all English speaking countries...and a huge number of EPL fans!

I certainly hope Owen delivers...and Crouch doesn't give in to stage fright. Friendlies are definitely different!

Come on England!

6/10/2006 3:20 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

Good luck England! Having not watched Paraguay...I can only say that I hope there is enough quality to overcome them. 4-4-2 and a strike from Beckham to settle the affair is where I'm punting!

LOL your comment regarding the cool Swedes! Bring it on!

6/10/2006 10:21 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Today's the day, people, and its a feast of football, as we kick off at 2pm, Trinidad v Sweden start at 5pm then Argentina v Sweden at 8pm. Good luck to the boys, here's to a great starting victory.


6/10/2006 10:57 am

Anonymous Nturtle said...

A lacklustre England really...and I can't believe it was settled by an own goal from Paraguay!

The firepower wasn't working today for sure. And I hope OWEN is ok since he was subbed so early! Mmmm...still mulling the game over. Joe Cole did well until he was rattled a few times...and I think the Beckham right foot really DID win the game...almost got my money!

Towards the end though...Paraguay was more impressive...especially with Cuevas coming on...the No.23...showing some good skill. least 3 points are in the pocket! It's not going to scare the Swedes at all though...nor the Trinidad & Tobago fans!

6/10/2006 4:16 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Spot on for me, Nturtle, plan to write up on it after the Argentina v Ivory coast game.


6/10/2006 4:40 pm


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