Ruptured Achilles’ heel is the final nail in England’s World Cup coffin

15 03 2010

Beckham, Terry, Cole…injuries and melodramas expose England’s Achilles’ heel

As the Greek myth of the Trojan War goes, it was the heel of the great Achilles – pierced by a poisoned arrow fired by Paris – that killed the apparently invulnerable warrior. Now in England’s World Cup campaign, one that seemed so promising six months ago, it is the stricken heel of David Beckham that has all but killed off the nation’s chances of success in South Africa.

England's Achilles' heel has been exposedIf 2009 had been a perfect year for England and Fabio Capello, 2010 will so far be remembered with anguish and dismay. It has taken less than three months to derail England’s previously impeccable World Cup campaign. For all the invincibility perpetuated by the form of Wayne Rooney, it cannot be disguised that England’s Achilles’ heel has been left exposed by unrelenting fitness set-backs and public crises.

In the qualifying season Capello equipped the team with a raw pace and precision befitting of a world finals favourite. The pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place. England scored more than any other European team in qualifying with a coherent, dynamic set-up that brought the best out of every individual.

The Italian even went so far as to say he knew who his no. 1 would be in goal, presumably David James given he played the majority of the qualies. The same could arguably be said for his thoughts on how the rest of the team would shape up.

Heskey and Rooney, with Gerrard interjecting from an advanced left position seemed to crack the ‘square peg in a round hole’ enigma of the Liverpool captain and bring the best out of Wazza, England’s most devastating weapon. Lampard and Barry developed an effective partnership in the engine room and Ferdinand, Terry and Ashley Cole made up 3/4s of an impenetrable back four. Doubts remained over the right flank but there were plenty of viable options.

Team morale was buoyant and yet the national team had an air of composed assurance instilled by the Italian’s machismo.

England's qualifying campaign could not have gone betterNow what a difference a superinjunction makes. The revelations (not like everyone was really that surprised) about Terry’s affairs and unrepentant betrayal of an England team-mate sent shock waves through the camp and stripped him of the armband. Shortly after being cut down by a broken ankle that will jeopardise his fitness for the summer ‘Cashley’ Cole’s popularity took another dramatic plunge after having salvaged respect for impressive displays on the pitch.

Wayne Bridge, the most experienced if not reliable back-up to Cole at left-back, backed out of deputising in the Chelsea man’s absence. No one is convinced about who should start in goal let alone be on the plane. Ferdinand has barely appeared all season due to his vulnerable vertebrae; and now one of the only truly talismanic player in the projected squad has cried off to Finland after rupturing that mythical weak spot on his left heel.

His experience – whether you think he would have played every minute in this summer’s tournament or just made up the numbers on the training pitch – would have been invaluable for the squad in South Africa. He has been through everything on the international stage from bearing the expectancy of a nation to bearing the burden of defeat; from his role in redemption in 2002 to reliability in 2006 he has embodied England’s pride and passion from that first cap to his 115th.

Beckham injury It must be acknowledged that England’s hopes are not entirely dashed, yet. Players are rediscovering form and fitness at a crucial time and with Rooney in the form of his life anything is possible. He is capable of inspiring the team around him to excel (just look at how his club are doing).

However, England’s vulnerability has been exposed as far more extensive than thought when qualification was secured in Wembley last September. That 23-man squad will be hobbling to South Africa, a World Cup most expected would go furthest in alleviating 44 years of hurt.

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England’s World Cup squad as Capello sees it – the goalkeepers

23 02 2010

Who should be in Capello’s squad based on his insistence of form?

England’s U-21 squad, announced on Monday by Stuart Pearce, had the revealing omission of goalkeeper Joe Hart. Conspicuous by his absence, the Birmingham City stopper is widely considered the form English goalie of this Premier League, and is likely to be tried out in the upcoming friendly against Egypt next Wednesday, but will the England boss be willing to hand the young man the number 1 jersey in South Africa?

Joe hart must gain invaluable experience in England's friendlies Along with the left midfield the goalkeeping selection has been like the fragile metatarsal in Rooney’s magical feet: always likely to crumble at that crucial moment. Remember David Seaman against Brazil in 2002. Remember Paul Robinson in Croatia and Robert Green in Wembley? Remember not qualifying for Euro 2008???

Forget the dire condition of England’s training camp in Rustenburg, the most pressing decision weighing on Fab’s studious mind right now is who to put between the sticks. Now, in an attempt to premeditate his chosen number 1, here are those statistics for our nation’s top-flight goalkeepers that the Italian vows by so religiously. We will see if the stats really do add up for our man Fabio, based on Premier League figures and Champions League and international appearances.

GOALKEEPERS

 

Games

Mins

CS

Saves

GC

Mins/GC

GC/game

CL 09/10

WQ 09/10

England CG

Hart

25

2250

8

101

28

80

1.12

0

0

0

Robinson

27

2430

9

86

43

57

1.59

0

0

16

Green

26

2322

7

90

40

58

1.54

0

4

4

Kirkland

23

1958

5

61

42

47

1.83

0

0

0

James

17

1514

3

43

29

52

1.71

0

6

16

Foster

8

720

3

18

8

90

1

2

1

1

CS clean sheets | GC goals conceded | CL Champions League appearances | WQ World Cup Qualifying caps | CG competitive games | First place | Second place

No. 1 – Joe Hart has made the most saves with 101 and with the second best goals conceded to games ratio (1.12) should statistically be first choice but is inexperienced with no competitive England games to date. It would need the conservative Capello to break with his traditions to select the nation’s top-flight in-form stopper.

No. 2 – Robert Green would make a dependable deputy. He has made the second most saves with 90 and played the second most games in World Cup qualification with four.

No. 3 – Paul Robinson, attempting to return from the international wilderness, is an experienced backup with the most clean sheets and games this season (nine in 27). He has jointly played the most competitive matches for the Three Lions, level with David James on 16.

David James has been reliable when called upon but his club form is not good enough James is statistically vulnerable, conceding a goal every 52 minutes and only appearing 17 times. Ben Foster has played too few games, with eight, to be considered but is clearly able, only conceding a goal a game and with recent Champions League experience. Chris Kirkland is not up to scratch with 1.83 goals conceded per game and a limited international pedigree.

So there you have it. Hart needs to start. He is brimming with confidence, performed commendably for the U-21 squad in their last European competition, saved a penalty, and even scored from the spot. David James, previously a shoe-in for Capello has dropped down the pecking order. Come May and June the situation may have changed but for Capello, the decision is likely to be one of deciding between experience and ability. He made the right choice with JT. Will he make the right choice with JH?

Next post: I’ll assess the outfield options.