It seems just like yesterday. An entire nation sat with their heads in their hands, defeated and disappointed, trying to come to terms with the fact that there were still fifteen minutes of the game remaining. Thomas Muller had just struck the decisive and thankfully final goal for the impressive Germans, killing off any chance England had of progressing into the Quarter Finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Supporting England is a painful process, actually its like a vicious circle. We start each qualifying period with a new sense of belief, trying to put the bitterness of the previous tournament behind us and looking forward to a more prosperous future. Qualifying has never been England’s problem in the modern era, putting aside the Taylor and McLaren train wrecks of course, and we typically qualify in style, giving the nation false hope as we take apart the footballing powerhouses of Andorra, Kazakhstan and Liechtenstein.
Arriving at the tournament, weather it be the World Cup or European Championships, the nation fills to the brim with pride and hope but apart from one glorious summer in 1966, these feelings are all too fleeting. Sure we have had our moments, 1990 and 1996 in particular come to mind, but due to the constantly over hyped and massively wild expectations placed on the England football team we always leave tournaments feeling we could and possible should have won. Germany’s 4-1 win over England at the 2010 World Cup signaled the end of one era and the start of another. For the many fans this new era couldn’t start fast enough, for others the possibility of another chance of glory at Euro 2012 in Poland and the Ukraine seemed too far away.
As we near the end of the first month of 2012 you can already feel the buzz of excitement beginning to take over the thoughts and conversations of football fans up and down the country. Sure their club sides still have plenty to play for both domestically and in Europe but there is nothing quite like the prospect of an international tournament, especially for England fans. The debates will range from who should be boarding the plane, which tactics Fabio Capello should employ and who could possibly stand in their way of winning a first European Championship. The hopes and expectations of the team and manager will continue to grow over the coming months but I don’t want to start talking up our chances too soon, especially when you look over the other teams which are going to be involved. For many the key debate will concentrate on who Capello should take with him to the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine, and with only four months left to decide time is running out. Capello has three key friendlies to observe and study which players are going to make it into his final squad of twenty three players, starting with a tough test against the highly rated Holland at Wembley at the end of February.
During the build up the European Championships this summer I will attempt to give Mr Capello a helping hand in choosing his final squad by assessing all the possible options he currently has available and ranking where they would currently stand if I was to choose the squad today. Many managers state that you have to build a football team from the back in order to be successful but I am going to take a page out of the Kevin Keegan philosophy of football tactics and begin by looking at England’s forwards. Possibly the most debated area of Capello’s squad, it is thought that Capello will take five forwards with him to the championships in order to provide sufficient cover for the partially banned Wayne Rooney. Rooney will miss the opening two group games against France and Sweden but will be available for the final game against the Ukraine and the knockout stages if we progress through the group. Although I have described the forwards as being the most debated area of selection for Capello I want to stress that this is mostly due to our current lack of quality English forwards, not because we have too many quality players to choose from. The main dilemma for Capello is choosing the right mix of attacking players, having different options if he wishes to change tactics, formations or personnel. So the only question left to ask is who can England rely on to fire them to glory when they kick off their European Championship campaign against France on the 11th of June?
Already on the plane
Although Wayne Rooney is banned from playing in England’s first two group games his seat on the plane is already assured. In a squad of players lacking in true, world class talent, Rooney stands out as the one player who can claim to be up there with the world’s best. At his best unplayable, we can only hope England are still in with a chance of progressing to the knock out stages when he returns for the final group game.
A growing favourite of Capello, Darren Bent is beginning to find his feet on the international stage. Bent has a Premier League goal scoring record any striker would be envious of, having scored 97 goals in 219 games, but his impact whilst in an England shirt has often been questioned. However with 3 goals in his previous 6 international games and a consistently excellent strike rate in the league its hard to imagine Capello leaving him at home.
Sitting in the departure lounge
Carroll hasn’t enjoyed the best year following his big money move from Newcastle to Liverpool last January, scoring only 6 goals in 31 appearances. Confined to a role on the bench for much of this season, Luis Suarez recent ban has now given Carroll the chance to put together an extended run in the first team. If he can rediscover any of the form he showed at Newcastle he will no doubt power his way into Capello’s plans.
Making his long awaited debut in an England shirt towards the end of last year against Sweden, Sturridge didn’t look out of place at all. The young Chelsea striker is enjoying his most successful season to date, leading the scoring charts in a team that includes Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. No doubt a future England legend in the making, Euro 2012 might come a little early for him with Capello only likely to choose one of him or Welbeck.
Sturridge’s main competition for a place in the England squad, Danny Welbeck has impressed in the past year playing for both Sunderland and Manchester United. Welbeck has already featured three times under Capello and is rightly thought of as one for the future. His hold up play and change of pace might give him the nod over Sturridge, but it is a close call and much will depend on how both players consistently play from now until the end of the season.
Here is the dilemma. A dilemma which no doubt faces both his club manager, Arsene Wenger, and Fabio Capello. Where do you play Walcott? Usually used on the wings for England, Walcott offers great pace and penetration but generally a severe lack of any final product. Walcott has the ability to change a game and his versatility to play as a forward as well as a winger attracts Capello, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t make the final twenty three.
Waiting at check in
It’s hard to believe but Jermaine Defoe is almost thirty years old so this could possibly be his last chance to play at a major tournament. A proven Premier League goal scorer, Defoe has had plenty of chances to make a place in the England team his own without the success many expected. Possibly a good option to use from the bench with his pace and finishing ability but if he continues to warm the bench for Spurs he will be warming the sofa next summer.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Capello chose to take Zamora to the European Championships, something I never thought I would say, but Zamora only seems to improve with age. Capello sees Zamora as a good foil for Rooney, a player defences outside England don’t really know how to handle. Zamora proved this whilst powering Fulham to the Europa League final in 2010 and he has yet to disappoint in his short England career to date.
Sat waiting by the phone
Although Cole hasn’t won a cap since March 2010 against Egypt he has begun to recapture the form which saw him win seven caps under Fabio Capello. Cole has been scoring regularly for a West Ham team destined to return to the Premier League but I feel the only way he would make the plane would be if there were an unfortunate spate of injures before the summer.
On a self-imposed exile from the international set up perhaps Crouch won’t be waiting by the phone, but if he was to make himself available there is no doubt he would be considered for the finals. Crouch has an excellent scoring record for England but had no right to throw his toys out of the pram because he wasn’t being picked for games. Doubtful to ever appear again in an England shirt.
The star striker for the Premier League’s surprise package this season, Swansea City. Danny Graham has had a great start to his Premier League career with Swansea, scoring seven goals in nineteen games. If he can keep consistently scoring goals in the second half of the season then who knows what might happen. My feeling is international football may be beyond him, but if Dave Nugent and Michael Ricketts can win caps, anything is possible.
Watching on the BBC
England’s greatest striker of the modern era, the former European Footballer of the Year refuses to give up on the chance of returning to the England fold. A true legend, Owen still knows where the goal is and could possibly make a good impact from the bench like he has for Manchester United. Unfortunately though I feel Owen’s days in an England shirt are firmly behind him under the current management, but it would be good to see him in an England shirt once more.
Jay Bothroyd, Kevin Davies, Gabriel Agbonglahor, Andy Johnson…& Grant Holt
It speaks volumes about the severe lack of quality English strikers when these names are still being mooted as having an outside shot of making the England squad. Nothing against these players as I think they are good Premier League players in their own right, but in terms of top level international football they would just be found out.
In my opinion the five forwards Fabio Capello should take to the European Championships this summer are Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Bobby Zamora. In Rooney we have the world class striker who is more than capable of lighting up the competition and finally arriving on the big stage. Darren Bent is a proven finisher who can play up front on his own in the absence of Rooney, he is one of the best around in leading the line. I would take both Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck at the expense of Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe for both their exceptional talent and versatility. Both can play as an out and out striker but can also play on either wing if necessary. Bobby Zamora is possibly the surprise choice in my five but I like how he plays in an England shirt, a constant handful for the opposition, he opens up the game for those around him.
The beauty of being a football fan is that you can have your opinion and no doubt your opinions are different from mine. But as we look together towards the European Championships we no doubt share the same hopes and dreams. Next I will look at Capello’s midfield options, could David Beckham make yet another emotional return and will we finally stop arguing about Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard?