England Expects – Friendly Findings

There are just 12 days to go before the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  Over the last week England have completed their preparations outside the continent of Africa with two friendlies against Mexico last Monday and yesterday against Japan.  This was the last opportunity head coach Fabio Capello had to assess his 30 man squad before making the cut to 23 tomorrow.  A little bit about the friendlies before my take on the final 23.

On the one hand we should not read too much into friendlies of any kind.  England will not win or lose the World Cup because of the results and performances of the two friendlies.  For the sake of momentum and morale as well as ‘sending a message’ to fans and onlookers the two friendlies were good opportunities for the team to show what they’re capable of.

In that respect the team did poorly.  Despite beating the Mexicans 3-1 at Wembley and yesterday’s 2-1 win over Japan in Austria there was nothing in any of the performances that gave much hope in achieving the goal of giving indications to other teams.  Both matches were marked by a very poor first half and then a slightly improved second half.  The experiments that took place with various players more or less confirmed who was capable of playing well and who would certainly not make the grade.  It was also highly indicative by who got a performance and who didn’t the kind of players Capello was considering to take with him.

For all the causes for concern in the two friendlies, what was clear was that Capello definitely had the chance to see how the players would react to the experiments taking place.  Indeed it is worthy of commendation that he still felt comfortable enough to give several players a chance to prove themselves extensively before he makes his final decision.  It was a bit disappointing that certain other players were not given a 45 minute or 20 minute window of opportunity especially the man Scott Parker, but that is understandable when you consider the possible factors Capello is looking at before making his final selection.

What I took from viewing the friendlies was the following:

  • Joe Cole is a viable option to play off Rooney better than Defoe or Bent.
  • Walcott still has a lot of improving to convince of his ability to actually beat players and deliver a quality final pass/cross
  • Adam Johnson is worthy of consideration for an impact role on the left
  • Apparently Lampard and Gerrard can play alright together in central midfield as long as their opponents are not too tight and pressurising
  • Huddlestone is not quite ready to take on the responsibilities of a creative role in an England midfield and doesn’t offer the right balance in any midfield combination without taking out an established midfielder like Lampard and/or Gerrard
  • Carrick and Huddlestone are familiar for being the kind of midfielders who keep things ticking over and making new moves in midfield without providing effective cover for the defence.  Despite having a better season, Carrick’s experience would give him the nod between the two
  • England desperately need more actual firepower if the friendlies are anything to go by.  Rooney rarely looked like being able to score and none of the striking options on display proved threatening in any way.
  • Johnson at right-back is a weak-link for the defensive aspect of England’s.  Despite some good challenges here and there, he looks to be one to be easily picked off by a quality wide midfielder.
  • Whoever plays on the left will also have to take into consideration Cole’s natural tendency to go forward which could be a great dynamic for forward play or an inconvenience for an actual out and out left winger.
  • Gerrard’s most effective position for the team has to be decided now and he’s got to get with the programme once the tournament starts.
  • England’s goalkeeper situation?  Doesn’t matter.  Seriously.  The three on offer are not world class by any stretch, but are also not liabilities.  Hart is patently not the first choice, but he should enjoy the experience and use it to his advantage in the run up to the Euros in 2012.  Yeah the Calamity James thing won’t pass easily, but England didn’t lose out in 2006 because of him.  There is every chance Green knows what he’s doing sufficiently to keep the back four covered.  Having had fairly extensive opportunities to play with both keepers the experienced back four (OK back three and Johnson) should be able to work competently enough.

It’s easy to get disappointed with the showings of the team before the big one, but there was much positive to take out from the experiments and as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing to get overly concerned about.  Coming soon, something else very important I learnt from the friendlies.




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