World Cup Briefs - England can be the new Italy

08 June 2010 10:13

The usual moans and groans met Emile Heskey's inclusion in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad last week.

Darren Bent, with 24 Premier League goals overlooked for a man who Capello believes brings out the best of others.

Take Wayne Rooney out of the England attack and the options look far short of top class with Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch making up the numbers.

Yet, there is hope for England. When Italy triumphed in Germany four years ago no player scored more than two goals. Defender Marco Materazzi, who was infamously involved in Zinedine Zidane's last act in football, was their joint-top scorer with Luca Toni.

Short of a true world-class option in attack the Azzuri shared the goals around not just the team but the squad with nine different players chipping in.

When France won the World Cup in 1998 their main striker was Stephane Guivarc'h - he didn't even score. England, who do possess a world-class option in Rooney, can also look to the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and John Terry to chip in with goals as they so often do.

- Will Tidey on why Emile Heskey should start against the USA

Crouch, who is often accused of only scoring against weaker nations, could be a useful option - England will come up against 'weaker' nations in the tournament, they have two in their group, so he may help take the workload off Rooney, who himself hasn't scored in his last five games for England.

The loss of Rio Ferdinand on Friday is a sizeable blow for England and I struggle to understand the amount of voices I've heard that claim England will not miss him. For me, Rio has been England's stand out defender in their last three major tournaments, superb in 2002 and impressive in 2006.

The lack of pace in England's back-four, particularly if Ledley King's knee fails to hold together, is now a big worry, not so in the Group Stage, although the United States highly astute coach Bob Bradley will look to exploit England's weakness on Saturday night in Rustenburg.

It is when England come up against a side that can shift the ball at speed, such as Brazil, Spain or the Netherlands, should they get to face them, that their lack of pace at the back could be fatally exposed.

He's Gone Down And For Once He Might Stay Down

The luck of the draw went against the Ivory Coast back in December when they were pitched against Brazil and Portugal in the 'Group of Death'.

It didn't get much better when a look at the World Cup wallchart indicated a likely second-round tie against European Champions Spain should they fight their way out of Group G. The three best sides in the world, according to the FIFA rankings, inside four games.

Then Sven Goran Eriksson, a lifelong Liverpool fan we were told on Saturday, was appointed their coach for the summer. On Friday, it got even worse for them when Didier Drogba, not just the totem for football in Ivory Coast, but also Africa, suffered a fracture to a bone in his right arm.

Drogba, the Premier League's top scorer this season and a man that has scored 44 goals in 69 international caps has been a phenomenal player in the colours of the Ivory Coast, far removed (most of the time) from the sulking, preening figure he cuts for Chelsea when he gets the hump because he isn't taking penalties.

- World Cup 2010 fixtures

The Ivory Coast possess several top footballers and before the draw, and in many cases still are, viewed as Africa's best chance of making a real impact this summer. Yet without Drogba on the pitch, without his hustle and bustle and the way he carries the fight from the front for his nation, Erikkson's side are far weaker and certainly far less imposing.

The Ivory Coast remain hopeful he may feature after successful surgery on his break over the weekend, although he will surely miss their opening game v Portugal, one which really could shape their destiny in this tournament with Brazil expected to top the group.

Drogba would have relished getting amongst the Portuguese defence and they certainly would have feared his possible impact in that game. However, you can’t help feeling that for all the times that Drogba has feigned injury in the blue of Chelsea, to win free-kicks and to try and get opposition defenders sent-off that there will be plenty of ironic smiles in this country if an injury rules him out of Africa's first World Cup.

Robbed Of A Star

Something always seems to go wrong for the Dutch doesn't it? Surely the greatest nation, even ahead of Spain to have never won the World Cup. In 1974, they had re-invented the game and took a first minute lead against their eternal rivals Germany, then spent the next half-hour toying with their opponents instead of killing them off. They lost 2-1.

In 1978, they were a post's width away from the prize yet succumbed ultimately to Mario Kempes and Argentina. In 1998 they were a penalty shoot-out away from the final yet lost to Brazil.

Heading into this summer's tournaments they were developing substantial momentum, becoming many people's dark horses for glory in South Africa. A perfect qualification record, eight wins out of eight, and despite the lack of a world-class defender, just two goals conceded.

Coach Bert van Marwijk claims his side can win the trophy and many believe he has the steeliness of mind to prevent the usual fractions inside the Dutch camp. Yet on Saturday, their momentum temporarily derailed, despite an impressive 6-1 win over Hungary.

Arjen Robben, who has been in nothing short of scintillating form for Bayern Munich this season, suffered a hamstring injury that may deprive the Netherlands of one of their 'Fantastic Four'. It even lead van Marwijk to say he would rather have lost the game than have Robben injured.

In Wesley Sneijder, so crucial in Inter Milan's march to the Champions League, Rafael van Der Vaart, who excelled winning his place back in the Real Madrid team after being dropped at the start of the season, Robin van Persie and Robben, the Dutch had four players capable of firing them to a realistic shot of glory in South Africa.

- World Cup Fantasy Football

Latest scan results mean he will travel to join up with the Dutch squad yet his availability is still unsure. Without Robben, who scored twice before picking up his injury, their attack loses his searing pace and ability to conjure a goal from absolutely nothing. Without him, it is likely that is all they will be bringing home.

Attack The Only Philosophy

Another touted dark horse are Marco Bielsa's Chile. Bielsa, the finest Argentine coach at this summer's World Cup, who has the haunting horrors of 2002 fresh in his mind when he took Argentina to the finals as favourites after a spellbinding qualification campaign and crashed out in the group stage, will be desperate to showcases his talents this summer.

His approach to the game will be a joy to watch - it's all about attack and the pressing of the opposition high up the pitch with Bielsa but their naivety at the back will be their undoing. Humberto Suazo, who was South America's top scorer in qualification with 10 goals, is also struggling to be fit after suffering a hamstring injury in a pre-World Cup game.

Their game against Spain, although Vicente Del Bosque may be fielding the reserves by then, could be one of the nights of the group stage but a probable second round tie with Brazil will surely see their World Cup campaign end in the same way as it did the last time they made the finals in 1998 - trying to outplay their South American rivals but ultimately coming up short.

But while they are there they should be a joy to see.

From Salesman to South Africa

Ten years ago an amateur footballer by the name of Grafite was playing the game in exchange for diapers and food for his newborn baby girl. He sold waste paper bags on the side to make enough money to get by. Next week, he will be part of the squad of the World Cup's most glorious side, Brazil. It’s the kind of thing you would not believe if they made it up in Hollywood, let alone if it happened in real life.

The Brazilian never expected to be at the World Cup and you get the feeling he still can't believe it.

"I still thought I was a long shot to make the team. I was in my house and just went to the garden with my dog to wait there. My family and all my friends were in the living room watching the TV," said the Wolfsburg striker.

"From time to time I would just look at them from the garden to see what was going on. If they kept quiet I knew it would be bad news. All of a sudden they started yelling and celebrating. My daughter ran to me and we hugged and started crying."

"When I heard I was summoned to the World Cup I started getting flashes of my early days," he said.

"Of when I was in Campo Limpo Paulista playing for diapers and groceries for my daughter, Ana Carolina, who had just been born. It wasn't easy to get to where I am now."

Grafite will be Brazil's fourth choice striker in South Africa behind Robinho, Luis Fabiano and Nilmar and although Dunga has come under criticism back in Brazil for his style of football, they edge Spain as my favourites to take the prize on July 11 in Johannesburg.

His use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, far from typically Brazilian gives his attacking players a platform to build from, Gilberto and Felipe Melo providing cover to allow the 'Selecao' to break forward with rampant pace and allow Robinho, and of course Kaka, who I fully expect to show the kind of form we didn't quite see in Madrid last season, to unleash their ability in the knowledge they have bodies stationed behind them in a highly efficient system.

Their counter-attack style of football has not been welcomed in Brazil but like Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, success in the most high-pressure jobs may come from playing ugly. Behind that they have two of the world's form players at the moment in Maicon, and captain Lucio, whilst their final line of defence, Julio Cesar, is possibly the best goalkeeper in the world right now.

- World Cup mini-site

Too Flash For France

The French Football Federation have come under criticism from the country's junior sports minister over the selection of hotel for their stay in South Africa. The Pezula Resort described as a 'sanctuary of privacy and indulgence' will host Raymond Domench's side who arrived on Saturday fresh on the back of a 1-0 defeat to what was in effect China's B side.

"Personally I would not have chosen that hotel," said the junior minister, Rama Yade. "I had asked football authorities to show decency. In times of crisis, you need to think about it. If the team's results do not meet our expectations, the Federation will have to account for this."

The resort in Knysna on the Western Cape coastline offers views of the Indian Ocean, the Knysna Lagoon and boasts a secluded beach. Miss Yade need not worry, they won't be there for long.

The Wait Is Almost Over

The next time I write for you it will have all started. The greatest football tournament in the world will be in full swing. Six years of planning and preparation since South Africa were awarded the tournament in 2004.

Let's hope it delivers everything it promises. The inevitable heartache, heart-pumping alcohol-fuelled renditions of Three Lions & World In Motion, drunken congas, footballs being kicked through town centres, shouting violently at the TV everyone time Diego Maradona's face appears, endless re-runs of Gazza's tears and Geoff Hurst's winning goal, people who claim they don't like football overcome with football fever, old women telling us where Capello went wrong, Wayne Rooney taking on the world, missed penalties, German efficiency, Brazilian brilliance, ridiculous African goal celebrations, Loose Women being replaced by New Zealand v Slovakia, the hum of the vuvuzela, Alan Hansen's use of 'shambolic', annoying ITV inter-break bumpers, complaints about Rooney's use of the English language, empty beer-bottled analysis, every advert somehow attaching itself to the World Cup, over-enthusiastic referees, footballs more like beach balls, French failure, cheating Argentines, never being five yards from a St. George's flag, wall-to-wall television coverage, goals that change a lifetime, thinking 'there's always next time', bulldog spirit, ridiculous red cards, false dawns, seeing grown men cry over a game and letting yourself dream 'Could it be our year?'

It could only be the World Cup.

Source: DSG

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Last updated : 08:44