Capello Finally Has An England Squad Capable Of Competing
With the usual chaos and controversy of the Premier League suspended for a weekend, England travel to Montenegro for the culmination of their group G campaign seeking a solitary point to take them into next year’s European Championships.
With the usual chaos and controversy of the Premier League suspended for a weekend, England travel to Montenegro for the culmination of their group G campaign seeking a solitary point to take them into next year’s European Championships. It has not been easy, the toils of the home games with Wales and Friday’s eastern European opponents being two cases in point, as well as a sluggish contest with Switzerland in which a two goal handicap had to be compensated in order to escape with a point.
The two games with Bulgaria promised so much, winning by four and three goals respectively, as did the 3-1 procession in Zurich, yet in true England fashion, the optimism created by the vintage is often extinguished by the habitual reversion to the limpest of types, best epitomised by the vibrant dissection of Bulgaria in Sofia followed by the dour struggle to a one goal win over Wales, a side ranked 82 places lower on the FIFA pyramid.
However, there is a sense that England head to Podgorica with things looking slightly rosier for Fabio Capello, on Sunday night he was able to name a squad in excess of the standard has been forced to pick previously and the majority of the group are in impressive form, four of the five strikers named all scored at the weekend while Wayne Rooney is back from a short injury absence which halted his nine goal lightning start to his season.
That Capello has such an abundance of forward talent at his disposal that he can afford to overlook Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge who scored two at Bolton is a welcome contrast to the consistent dearth of strikers usually experienced by the Italian that has even led to then-Championship standard Jay Bothroyd being granted a call up, only the third outfield player from below the Premier League to be capped in two decades.
Such desperation is not an issue now, for reasons based on form England have an extremely potent attacking line at willing disposal, besides the irrepressible Rooney, Darren Bent has been instrumental in Alex McCleish’s solid start to the season with Aston Villa, scoring the second in the win over Wigan on Saturday. Bobby Zamora’s back problems have held off enough for him to play in 13 of Fulham’s 18 game start to the season and has scored five goals in the process whilst Danny Welbeck has netted the same amount for Manchester United as he continues his expeditious rise of reputation. Andy Carroll is fresh from a sharp display in the Merseyside derby in which reminded everybody of his effectiveness with strength in the air as a direct centre-forward. That he scored, and completed the full 90 minutes in a game of such intensity suggests he may have consigned the questions of his fitness to the side of irrelevancy, and England are primed to reap the immediate benefits on Friday.
A welcome strength in depth is also emerging with an array of talent unfortunate to miss out along with Sturridge; Peter Crouch has netted twice in his new surroundings of Stoke, the resurgent Jermaine Defoe has scored four times at Spurs while Gabriel Agbonlahor has improved dramatically from the desolate figure he cut last season by also scoring four goals for Aston Villa and even Michael Owen was linked with forcing his way back into Capello’s thoughts with his two goal display against Leeds. However, it is not just the attacking line-up which will please Capello, England are in fine fettle in all areas of the squad; any emerging doubts over Frank Lampards’ effectiveness have been ruthlessly dismissed by the midfielder in the only way he knows, by scoring four goals in a week, including a resounding hat-trick against Bolton.
On the same day, Scott Parker was superb in Tottenham’s victory over Arsenal while his match winning colleague Kyle Walker capped off an excellent day by being recalled to the squad as a right back, although he faces competition from Manchester City’s Micah Richards who has finally earned national recognition for his dynamic performances. Phil Jones has been a revelation as a makeshift right-back for Manchester United with his mercurial ball-carrying runs from deep positions which have brought comparisons with Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, although his natural tendencies to play as a centre back will present Capello with arguably his only clear selection dilemma of who to partner John Terry. Gary Cahill had been building a steady relationship with the captain in the last batch of internationals and the manager may want to continue this despite his wretched form of conceding 21 goals in six straight losses with Bolton Wanderers.
Everton’s solid embodiment of consistency Phil Jagielka is also a viable option in reserve, but Rio Ferdinand, in a refreshing nod to refusing to pick players without form or proper fitness despite high reputation, is excluded from selection. England managers in the past have been notorious for turning to players who are prematurely rushed back from injury in pure importunity, Micheal Owen, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney will all testify to that, all falling short of expectation in summer tournaments of the past after having their reputation precede their fitness. The elision of the newly returning Steven Gerrard is further good news, he will inevitably be paramount to Capello’s squad next year, but has wisely been allowed to continue his short-term recuperation with his club.
On Friday night, England will be favourites to secure the point needed to qualify for a summer in Poland and Ukraine next year for what will be Fabio Capello’s final act of his four year stint as England manager. His successor will be discussed and various candidates muted, but from the pragmatic Italian’s cycle of trial and error England have nearly reached the holy grail of a well-balanced squad lavished with depth and talent. The imperfections will still remain as with England is an expectation, but he will have six months to address that in full awareness that he has the tools at his disposal to bring his team to a par with the heavyweights of Europe and finally end constant summers of anti-climactic disappointment.
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