In a matter of a brief few hours in a Euro 2012 qualifier the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff will see hosts Wales take on their neighbours England. Most football observers worth their salt see nothing but a win for England. Yet it was not that long ago that England were expected to beat Northern Ireland in a qualifying match and were given a shock defeat. So in as much as there is what’s expected, there is always that element in which Wales can have a chance.
Take into account that despite the loss of Gareth Bale the Wales side are no amateurs. There are enough characters and warhorses in the Wales side to bully England and put in a gutsy performance with the roaring Dragons behind them. Now I’m no England fan, but being a resident of the country and indeed a product of it, I enjoy taking an interest in matters regarding the national affairs.
The build-up from the England camp has surrounded the captaincy fiasco that saw Capello botch any smooth handover from Rio Ferdinand to John Terry and instead create another media circus around why and how the England coach went about the task. It’s not one of those issues that can bring about a siege mentality among the squad, because frankly for all the talk of no one saying anything different, the decision is not one to galvanise all the squad. Beyond that, though, there are enough England players in this squad who still want to prove themselves capable of getting the job done and continuing England’s good progress in the qualifiers.
Considering the England squad make-up, I came to this conclusion as to who I would play in the first eleven.
GK – Hart; LB – Cole; CB – Terry; CB – Dawson; RB – Johnson; LM – Milner; CM – Parker; CM – Lampard; RM – Lennon; CF – Defoe; CF – Carroll.
I remember talking about the probably eleven that Capello would pick and I had an idea that he would choose Carroll and Rooney up front because of his keenness to see how they would combine together. I also appreciate that a bit like David Beckham in previous years, Wayne Rooney cannot be dropped. It’s almost a cardinal sin to consider not playing the man considered to be the most gifted English player of his generation.
Yet for me I don’t think that combination makes much sense. Far better having the target man in Carroll partnering the best English goal-poacher in Jermain Defoe. I know some would make an argument for Bent playing because of his goalscoring record, but to me there remains no doubt that Defoe can score goals at every level and his poaching habits as well as strikes from outside the area make him just a touch ahead of Bent.
Centre Midfield Combination
For the middle partnership I hear the clamour around Jack Wilshere and acknowledge that his performances this season has been one of the few crumbs of comfort Arsenal fans can take from recent times. He is without doubt an established England midfielder from the Euro 2012 Championships onwards. However for this match, I just reckon that Scott Parker’s efforts for West Ham prove he is able to put in a committed, professional, aggressive and energetic performance in the middle of the park. I’m not saying Lampard cannot be dropped, I’m not his biggest fan and maybe a Wilshere/Parker combination could work just as well as a Parker/Lampard partnership. I reckon, however, that Lampard’s proven eye for goal and international experience allows him to keep his place in the starting eleven.
The Wide Men
Also in midfield, there maybe some question as to which player to put where. As it appears Stewart Downing is the only one in the squad comfortable with playing on the left. Yet what can work often for England is to have one pacy, foraging winger down a flank and then a more disciplined wide midfielder giving cover for the full back as well as contributing crosses whenever necessary. It’s not easy to pick that pacy winger because Ashley Young can make a creditable claim to do that. Lennon gets the nod down the right, because he’s more inclined to be a winger where Young can fancy himself coming inside from time to time.
For the disciplined wide midfielder shift there is not a better selection than James Milner. In terms of all round versatile midfield play from defensive graft to creative passing and incisive crossing Milner is possibly the best England choice for years. As ever his versatility might be his downfall if he’s hoping for a consistent run in the team in a position where he can be most effective, but even in this left midfield role he can still give sufficient cover when Cole goes a wondering down the left as well as contribute himself where necessary.
In the absence of Ferdinand the choice for a partner to Terry is rather interesting. Without striking fear into the heart of an international striker, the choices are decent defenders who now have top level European experience and can do a job for their country. For me I like the combination of a smooth defender and the one who will clatter into the opposition. This season I admit Jagielka has been outstanding for Everton and when Lescott has been called for he’s rarely let Man City down.
I watched Michael Dawson for Spurs recently, though, and when you can shut up the likes of the Milan strike force I would tend to take you seriously. His distribution is good, his positional sense is good and he’s useful up front not just for the set piece header, but some useful shots on goal. That’s why he gets the nod.
The Final Analysis
I am certain Capello will not choose a side like this at all and their system of play won’t, in my opinion, make the most of the players he’s got in the system that best fits them. Yet for all that Capello knows enough to stick eleven men on the pitch and replace them at the relevant intervals to achieve the win they need to put them in a very strong position going into their last qualifying matches. So for the gallant effort you can expect from Wales, I reckon England will nick a 2-0 win.