World Cup 2010 - Race to make the England squad
Published : 19 Jan 2010 16:43:40
There may still be five months until the World Cup kicks off in South Africa, but with England's goalkeeping options continuing to prove particularly problematic, football.co.uk's Gareth Burton assesses where the squad stand at this stage of the season.
The England goalkeeping position is among the most contentious battles. Regular keeper David James has struggled with injury problems and has rarely featured for relegation threatened Portsmouth so far this season. He has also been linked with a move away from Fratton Park during the January transfer window with former Pompey boss Harry Redknapp believed to be particularly keen to add the veteran goalkeeper to his squad at Spurs.
Not only does James therefore face the problem of recovering from injury and rediscovering the impressive form that won him the England gloves in the first place, but if he is to move to Tottenham he first has the task of dislodging the rejuvenated Heurelho Gomes to become number one at White Hart Lane.
Should he fail to re-establish himself then Capello is likely to call upon West Ham's Robert Green to fill the void, but his credentials have already come under intense scrutiny from fans. Green also became the first England keeper in history to be sent off when he was dismissed for a professional foul in the penultimate game of England's qualification and while he is a solid Premier League keeper he is still widely considered to lack the quality required to head England's bid for glory this summer.
Elsewhere, Manchester United stopper Ben Foster has fallen further down the pecking order at Old Trafford following numerous inept performances and has left England looking particularly short between the sticks.
Joe Hart could provide a potential glimmer of light. His inspirational performances have been paramount to Birmingham's overachievement in the Premier League and he is certainly one of the season's major success stories thus far. At the age of twenty-two and with just one full cap to his name Capello may deem the youngster to lack the necessary experience to warrant a starting berth, but if he can maintain his current level of form he would certainly get my vote.
Though England's back four is largely expected to pick itself, fears remain over Manchester United central defender Rio Ferdinand who has made just five appearances in the league this season and was struggling for form even prior to his injury problems.
Captain John Terry and fellow Chelsea defender Ashley Cole remain fit and the latter has looked in particularly good shape for the Blues so far this season, which bodes well. At right back Glen Johnson and Wes Brown remain the obvious choices, while Matthew Upson is expected to continue to provide back-up for Capello's first choice central defensive partnership.
As long as Wayne Bridge can successfully recover from his knee problems he should also make the plane, but a final space still remains open for a central defender. Potential candidates include Joleon Lescott, Jonathan Woodgate and Phil Jagielka, but all three are currently sidelined and face a difficult battle in impressing the England coaching staff during the second half of the season.
Elsewhere, Bolton's Gary Cahill will also be hopeful of selection, while Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has even suggested that the experienced figure of Sol Campbell could warrant selection if he can hit the ground running back at Arsenal.
The England midfield positions are perhaps the most fiercely competitive in the entire squad. Certainties include Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry and Aaron Lennon, while David Beckham is also set to make the 23 man squad following his loan move to AC Milan, particularly if he can impress in their Champions League tie against Manchester United.
Micheal Carrick is expected to provide back-up for Barry in the defensive midfield position and if Joe Cole can play a significant role for Chelsea he will undoubtedly also make the squad, albeit most likely as a substitute.
That leaves the final midfield berth a highly competitive battle and one that is likely to be contested until the very end of this season. I suspect that Capello will opt for James Milner who has had another good season and provides considerable versatility, though fellow Aston Villa midfielders Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will also be vying for selection.
However, if Capello decides that he wants another more direct option he may consider the selection of Shaun Wright-Phillips or Theo Walcott, but both are a lot less comfortable operating from the left. That said, if Walcott can rekindle some form at Arsenal he will be difficult to omit following his hat-trick for England against Croatia in 2008.
Wayne Rooney continues to carry the burden of being central not only to England's World Cup hopes, but also to Manchester United's aspirations of securing another Premier League title. England's talismanic forward has been in irresistible form for his club so far this season, though with such reliance placed upon him I do worry that come June he may begin to show signs of burnout.
Rooney's most likely strike partner will be Emile Heskey, who continues to grapple with John Carew for a starting place at Aston Villa this season, but is well thought of by Capello despite his lack of goals.
Meanwhile, having himself been in scintillating goal-scoring form Jermain Defoe has seemingly all but booked his place in the squad and has done himself no harm in even pushing for a starting place.
The final striking role is likely to be contested between Peter Crouch and Carlton Cole, though Darren Bent and Michael Owen also have the chance to push for inclusion. Cole is currently out injured and will be desperate to get back to his best having been a regular feature in recent squads, while Crouch and Owen have fantastic records for England and will stake strong claims for selection.
MY EXPECTED WORLD CUP SQUAD:
Goalkeepers - Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green
Defenders - Glen Johnson, Wes Brown, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge
Midfielders - Aaron Lennon, David Beckham, Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, James Milner
Strikers - Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch