09 June, 2006

World Cup Willies

England bloody well does expect. But, what do we expect?

For the most part, if you read the tabloids and listen to the hacks on TV you'd believe that "this time, more than any other time, this time" England really will win when it matters. In fact, we're going to beat Germany, Argentina and Brazil on the way to the World Championship.

This evening, Clive Tyldesley was figuring out the permutations for England's second round match. Er, not only haven't England qualified, they haven't yet played. I recommend some of that spray to deal with that premature wot-sit, Clive.

Anyway, you're dying to read Donutball's predictions.

I predict Ecuador will cause an upset in the first round. There, that's the difficult one out of the way.

But now the questions for England. We all now about that foot. For now, let's assume Rooney doesn't play a significant part in the group stages. These then are the questions on Donutball's mind.

Can England retain possession? If there is one weakness that could undo England it's the inability to retain possession of the ball for long periods of the game. It undid the side against France and Portugal in Euro 2004. Good sides don't give away the ball cheaply. All the good work that England will put in, from the back four through an excellent if sometimes uncohesive midfield to the tall man and the speedy man, will be for naught if they hand the opposition too much possession.

What about that ball? We;ve already seen some fantastic long range shooting in day one. England 'keeper Paul Robinson has had plenty of practice with the new ball. But, we still fancy teams to have long range efforts at the Spurs man. Remember Uruguay?

Who provides the midfield cover? And, if England throw away possession, the midfield threatens to be overrun. Sven seems to have ditched the idea of playing the "holding midfielder" in front of the back four. Donutball is convinced Sven wanted to play Ledley King in that role. He slotted into the position fairly well in the torrid friendly against Argentina. Ledley needed a few more games to blossom, but we're confident he would have been the ideal choice and given England an extra edge, particularly against counter-attacking sides. But, Ledley is injured. Carrick had one game to prove himself, albeit a disjointed B international. So Sven goes into the tournament with a flat back four and a pretty much flat four in midfield. Gerrard and Lampard will have to take turns providing cover. Either that, or Sven is convinced that the back four can be exposed.

Will we be doing the Crouch? The question is will England play the tall man throughout the tournament. Sorry, we've got to talk Rooney. It's obvious that Crouch is the ideal candidate for Paraguay and T&T. His height and touch on the floor will unsettle both sides. We're less convinced about his effectiveness against the dour Swedes. Here, pace will be important picking the channels between the central defenders. Beyond the group matches Rooney becomes a factor. Does Rooney usurp Crouch? Or, does an out of form Owen get the chop. Too many questions for now.

How much playing time will Walcott and Lennon get? I hope that Lennon gets at least 25 or 30 minutes in one or two of the group matches. Firstly, that should indicate that the game is won and Beckham can come off. Secondly, his speed is just so unsettling. Thirdly, N.17. Walcott? Walcott could be an exciting talent. It doesn't need us to tell you that he's yet to play in the Premier League. Sven says he picked him on the recommendation of Arsene Wenger. Well, I think you know what we think of that vanquier. More to the point, against his youthful exuberance and speed (definitely a plus) Walcott has no experience of any big stage. Lennon has little more, but in his short Premier League career he's already developed into a budding star. Walcott may spell Owen. Donutball would, naturally, opt instead for the 24th man.

Okay, and now the big question. Can England go all the way? Are the tabloid headline writers right? Of course England can win the World Cup. England should win their group. Paraguay are a good test for the first game. We don't expect them to do an Ecuador, but Paraguay are not pushovers. T&T too will be a tough match, much like an English match given that most their side play in England or Scotland. But, T&T's results coming into the finals show that they are very short of quality. Sweden, even though they have the eye over England, are a team in decline.

Donutball expects England to advance. How much further depends on the opponents in the latter stages and of course England's performances. That leads to questions about the quality of the squad. This is, as we keep being reminded, England's "Golden generation" with the likes of Beckham, Owen, Gerrard, Terry, Ferdinand and Lampard coming of age. Add to that a sprinkle of youth in Joe Cole, Lennon and Walcott; solid squad and supporting players such as Crouch and Carragher; veterans Campbell and Neville. It looks a good side, perhaps England's best in many generations.

England are up there in the top six in the world. There are continuing questions, as above. With a fit Rooney, you might make a reasonable case for England making the final.

Donutball expects drama, triumph, injuries, great goals, saving tackles, yellow cards, bursts down the wing and magic free-kicks.

Too bad we'll miss the final on 9 July. And, if you're still interested, our predictions are...

Semi-finalists: Brazil, England, Ivory Coast and Spain
Winners: Brazil


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