It’s great being an England fan. The despair and doom and gloom hanging over the team and indeed, over the entirety of English football, has been transformed into a genuine belief that we are going to win the 2010 World Cup on the basis of one performance in Croatia. It was an exceptionally good performance I’ll admit, but it was just one game.
Of course, we now have the talents of Theo Walcott who will undoubtedly be the best player in the world and will play a pivotal role in the build up to John Terry lifting up that trophy in just under two years time. That’s the view of the media in England and the ridiculous and unrealistic view that many England fans now have. We just get caught up in all the hype and can’t stop ourselves. It isn’t our fault!
Well, over the next few days, we have a real opportunity to cement those naively optimistic feelings or to bring our hopes and dreams crashing back down to earth. I know managers often say that there is no such thing as an easy international match but home to Kazakhstan and away to Belarus?
Fabio Capello has named his twenty-three man squad for the two games and it looks like this:
James (Portsmouth), Green (West Ham), Carson (West Brom); Brown (Manchester United), Johnson (Portsmouth), Terry (Chelsea), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Lescott (Everton), Upson (West Ham), A Cole (Chelsea), Bridge (Chelsea); Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Walcott (Arsenal), Barry (Aston Villa), Jenas (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Downing (Middlesbrough), Wright-Phillips (Manchester City); Heskey (Wigan), Crouch (Portsmouth), Rooney (Manchester United), Defoe (Portsmouth).
There is as much talk about who isn’t in the squad as there is about who is. The most notable absence of course is Michael Owen who seems to be well outside of Fabio Capello’s plans. He has a wonderful record for England and many people think he is worth a place in the squad, but he is suffering from the turmoil at Newcastle and his chance may come again if Newcastle can sort out the mess or Owen moves on.
Also missing is Joe Cole who suffered a foot injury in Chelsea’s win over Aston Villa. He will be a big miss because he is in sparkling form and is one of England’s few players who can produce a moment of individual brilliance to change games.
Jimmy Bullard and David Bentley are also left out of the squad to be replaced by Steve Gerrard and Shaun Wright-Phillips. I feel sorry for Bullard who has done nothing wrong, but really can’t complain about Gerrard returning to the squad. Maybe Bullard might have an argument to say that he deserves his place more than Jermaine Jenas? As for Bentley, his disappointing form for Tottenham has blown his chance of becoming the long term replacement for David Beckham.
International class keepers
Scott Carson comes in for the injured Paul Robinson and this is based on the fact that…well, we haven’t got three international class goalkeepers!
Two players who can consider themselves as slightly unfortunate not to be included are the Aston Villa pair of Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor. They have been impressive for Aston Villa again this season and Young especially must have been close to selection, particularly with the injury to Joe Cole. Does anyone really think that Stewart Downing has more of a claim to the left hand side of England’s midfield than Ashley Young?
Booed from the field
Prior to the 4-1 win in Croatia, England were booed from the field at Wembley after a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic and a particularly uninspiring 2-0 win over Andorra. Now, after that one game we will see a 90,000 sell-out crowd at Wembley on Saturday all expecting us to thump the minnows from Kazakhstan.
England have six points from their opening two games to sit at the top of the group and anything less than six points from Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 1715 BST and Wednesday evening’s trip to Minsk to take on Belarus in a 1930 BST kick-off, would be regarded as something of a disaster.
Capello is wary of complacency and has said that England must concentrate on every game.
“We now have six points and we have to play every game like a final. Against Kazakhstan and against Belarus – you must focus every game. This is my philosophy, my vision of football. It is important to win but you have to focus for the next game, not on what we did against Croatia.”
Kazakhstan have three points from the three games they have played so far. A convincing 3-0 win against Andorra (better than England did!) was followed by a 3-0 defeat in Croatia and a 3-1 defeat to Ukraine.
Since the beginning of June 2007 they have played eleven competitive matches and six friendlies. They have won just two games, the victory over Andorra and a 1-0 win over Armenia in a Euro 2008 qualifier. There have been four draws and eleven defeats including a 6-0 drubbing in Russia. However, they haven’t conceded more than three goals in any of the other sixteen games and in seven games they kept a clean sheet or conceded only once.
Their squad is made up almost entirely of players who ply their trade in Kazakhstan. Of the last squad they announced only their midfield player, Andrei Karpovich, who plays for Dynamo Moscow, earns his living elsewhere.
Belarus may well provide sterner opposition for Fabio Capello’s men. They too have three points from their two matches so far but were unbelievably unlucky to lose 1-0 in Ukraine to an injury time penalty. They won comfortably in Andorra 3-1.
Also this year, Belarus achieved a 2-2 draw in a friendly in Germany and a 0-0 draw in a friendly at home to Argentina. It is fair to say that Belarus are no mugs.
They have some notable victories to their name, none more so than a 2-1 win over Holland in the Euro 2008 qualification campaign. They are also well known to British football fans after their 1-0 win in Scotland in 2005.
The Belarus squad play their football far and wide although a majority play in the Russian league. Their most famous player is probably Barcelona’s Alexander Hleb.
Current manager Bernd Stange has a decent record of six wins and four draws in the sixteen matches he has been in charge.
So there we have it. Potentially a fairly straight forward win at Wembley against Kazakhstan and a tougher but easily winnable game in Belarus. The problem is, when has anything been straight forward when it comes to the English national team?