By Mark Duckworth
This World Cup was supposed to be different. This was supposed to be the one where England made its mark on the international stage and finally eclipsed that win back in 1966. But after two draws from two games, England is staring down the barrel of an early exit, and with Tyrant Terry causing more problems for Capello it could all end in tears come Wednesday afternoon.
“This is the big mistake, a very big mistake. But I hope that sometimes from the big mistake a big performance comes out.”
That’s what Capello told The Times regarding Terry’s outburst, and what he expects to see when his selected 11 walk into Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
That selected 11 will bare the greatest amount of pressure any English team has faced since 1990. And as this game can’t be decided by penalties, a draw at full time will not be enough for England this time.
So who will be wearing an England jersey in Port Elizabeth?
Well it seems David James will keep the No. 1 jersey after a solid game against Algeria. In fact, if Capello had gone with James from the start then this game may well have been a dress rehearsal for the second round.
In front of James, will no doubt be England’s best player of this World Cup if there has been one in Ashley Cole. Cole is the player who has worn the Three Lions with pride and, against Algeria, was the only player who actually broke a sweat. Cole may have entered this World Cup in a cloud of doubt surrounding his fitness and attitude, but, unlike the rest of the squad, his performance in the England shirt has been top class.
Capello now faces his biggest challenge with Terry, who, due to injuries and suspensions he can’t drop. But can he justify playing him? England will already be without central defenders Ledley King and Jamie Carragher. Terry’s ability is unquestionable, but his attitude is problematic and could be a real test of Capello’s character on Wednesday afternoon.
Terry told The Times: “I have told the manager, he has my total support.”
We will see how much support Terry does have on Wednesday, but it may not be Capello, Terry has to worry about.
Step forward England’s fourth choice center back Matthew Upson, due to injuries and suspensions Upson will now take to Terry’s side in Port Elizabeth. This will no doubt be Upson’s greatest moment, and I just hope he is ready, as one fatal slip or mistake could cost him and England more than just its place in the last 16. Beckham was made the scapegoat in 1998, and if Upson makes a mistake on the Nelson Mandela Bay pitch it could be his last in an England shirt.
The defense hasn’t really been one of Capello’s headaches with England only conceding one goal and that coming from a personal mistake not a blunder in the midfield. It’s the midfield and its personnel that Capello has to get right. The 4,4,2 formation looks likely to be scrapped as Capello wilts to player pressure to play one lone striker and a supporting midfielder. Wayne Rooney has sounded this formation out as his preferred, and it looks like Emile Heskey will become the sacrificial lamb for England as Rooney looks almost certain to get his wish.
Backing the formation change is current captain Steven Gerrard who looked lost on Friday night in Algeria as he was asked to play more of a roaming role. This role made the England formation narrow and the team struggled to create chances with a lack of width. If it struggles on Wednesday afternoon, we could see the dark ages returning to English football.
The right-sided left winger is what Joe Cole has become for England, and if Capello does change the formation it looks like Cole will benefit the most. Cole shone in the last warm-up game against Japan, and Capello will be hoping he can recreate the sort of form that has seen his stock rise for both club and country. He scored the goal at Old Trafford that helped secure Chelsea the Premier League title, and a similar type of goal will do England nicely against Slovenia. Cole has mainly been used as bit-part player with 20 substitute appearances compared to that of his 11 starts – he will be hoping that now is his time.
4,5,1 may be the players’ choice, but Capello could make a few changes and play 4,3,3 with a more advanced positions for Cole and Lennon. Barry would be the holding role with Lampard and Gerrard playing either side; this could also set Rooney free as Cole and Lennon could link more easily with the Manchester United front man.
Rooney had a dream season for his club, but this World Cup has turned into his nightmare, the low point being a self apology after his outburst toward the England fans. The much talked about football and formation may be causing Rooney problems, but his usual bulldog spirit is also missing and that is the biggest concern for a nation that relies so much on one player.
“The basic of it is that it’s the manager’s responsibility to pick a team and to coach and train us, and the player’s responsibility is to play.”
That’s what Frank Lampard told The Times, and the stage will be set at The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the England players to finally come out and play.
Mark Duckworth is a contributing writer for The National Game. His column appears with written consent.