The big news today for England is that their solid center back and team captain, Rio Ferdinand has injured his knee and will be out of the World Cup. Bear in mind that although, in 2009-10 Ferdinand made about half as many appearances as he did in the previous year, his value as a talisman cannot be overstated. Manager Fabio Capello did not name Ferdinand captain for nothing.
Nevertheless, England is still formidable, especially in this group. Their midfield is very capable, with many options with the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips as potential attacking midfielders with Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick anchoring the defensive midfield side.
With Ferdinand gone, the question remains who will take his place alongside John Terry. I would imagine it might be a platoon of Ledley King and Jamie Carragher. King is quite good when healthy, but he’s rumored to have difficulty playing more than once a week. Carragher has heart, but not a lot of speed. The other option is Matthew Upson, who may not be the most skilled player, but is a bit quicker. I don’t think Ferdinand’s replacement, Michael Dawson, will get much time due to his lack of international experience. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson will be at left and right back, respectively. Johnson has a bit of Cafu in him, but just a bit.
As for goalkeeper, this is arguably England’s weakest position. I believe that Robert Green might get the nod ahead of David James, based on his performance against Mexico in a recent friendly, which should make some England fans breath a bit easier, but I could be wrong. James has played well for a club team that had a miserable season (Portsmouth), but sometimes is so dodgy, his nickname is calamity. The third option is Joe Hart, but I believe it will be Green or James.
As for the attack, much of it is resting squarely on Wayne Rooney, who without question has matured from the young man who seems to collect red cards. Simply put, he has a nose for the goal and is a skilled finisher, the latter trait being one of the more underrated aspects of the game. So who does Capello pair him with? If it were up to me, I would put him alongside Jermain Defoe, another fine finisher, as opposed to Emile Heskey. Peter Crouch seems more an option for a late substitution.
England’s recent play in the run-up to the cup has been uninspired in my opinion. Granted, they beat Mexico 3-1, but did so on goals from Ledley King and Glen Johnson and a goal from an offside Peter Crouch who controlled the ball with his arm. Moreover, Mexico clearly outran them and would have won, if not for Robert Green’s fine play in goal. I saw most of the game of England against Japan and the bad news for England was that Japan scored all three goals. The good news for England was that two of them went into Japan’s net as own goals. Frank Lampard’s penalty miss was to be polite, uncharacteristic. Still, I believe they should have no problem going through to the second round.
As for the USA,their single greatest strength is in goal. Tim Howard is a world class keeper with impressive skills and agility. The rest of the defense has me a little worried. Oguchi Onyewu is still not 100% nor is Carlos Bocanegra. Jonathan Spector can leave me a bit uneasy, but I admire Jay Demerit’s heart and Jonathan Bornstein, to be charitable, is a work in progress. They have to find a way to keep Rooney in check. If they can do that, they might get a point out of the game.
The midfield is much better, with Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark anchoring the defensive component and Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey driving the offense. Bradley also has some skills on the attack, but both he and Clark have had disciplinary issues, most significantly in last year’s Confederations Cup and they’re going to need to control their tempers. Depending on what formation Manager Bob Bradley uses, there are also good options in Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu.
On the attack, will Landon Donovan be moved into a forward role alongside Jozy Altidore, perhaps as a withdrawn forward and playmaker? That might free up a space for Jose Torres to come in as a holding midfielder. Altidore really needs to finish well. He gets many opportunities, but
all too often comes up short. You can’t do that against a team like
England. We shall see but I still believe that the luck of draw will favor the USA going to the next round.
At the moment I believe that the only thing Algeria has going for it is that they won’t face the US or England in the first game. One of their best defenders, Nadir Belhadj is suspended for the opening game. The goalkeeper who led them to victory over Egypt, Faouzi Chaouchi is suspended for the first two games. Mourad Meghni, a gifted midfielder, nicknamed Le Petit Zidane is out of the WC with a knee injury and Majid Bougherra, a defender who plays for Scottish champion, Glasgow Rangers, is struggling to get fit in time. It really doesn’t look promising.
Mucha has been made about Slovenia beating Russia in the playoff, but precious little has been made of the fact that they did it on the away goal tiebreaker rule, having tied Russia in the aggregate. I have to plead utter ignorance about most of their players with the exceptions of Valter Birsa, who may be their best attacker and is fairly fleet of foot and plays for Auxerre in France and Rene Khrin, who plays for Inter and has subbed for Wesley Sneijder.
I believe that the US and England go through, but it’s vital that the US get a point against England. A tie in this case, won’t be like kissing your sister.
Just a brief note. I love the comments, I’ve found them something I look forward to with every post. I realize that some of the regular readers of this blog don’t like this sport and that’s fine; no one’s expecting you to. Out of courtesy to those of us who do, could you please not come into the comments section and make cheeky smartass comments or say that it’s boring.
Cross posted at Beautiful Horizons