Well, here it is folks. After time-killing and saying repeatedly to your friends "I can't wait until the next World Cup" (usually the day after the last one finishes), it's finally arrived and it feels good to write it. The World Cup, La Coupe du Monde, La Copa Mundial...Wereldkampioenschap voetbal. Wow those Dutch have a way with words!
It seems like it's been a long road getting here, with treks to footballing backwaters such as Kazakhstan and Andorra in qualification, injuries to David Beckham and latterly Rio Ferdinand, all the while the English public whipping themselves up into a frenzy over who would make the team come June 12th.
At least Fabio Capello has made up his mind regarding his starting eleven to face the U.S.A... and about time too. In a press conference at their Royal Bafokeng World Cup base, two days before the showdown with the Americans, Capello finally opened up to the press (somewhat) as to who he has picked to face our cousins from across the pond. The only problem being that Capello's idea of "opening up" is like someone who is terrified of tooth pain "opening up" their mouth to a dentist with a massive drill.
The fact that Capello hasn't given much away is great for us fans because it allows extra time to speculate and put forward our own expert tactical opinion. Tactics are strange in that they are only useful in relation to how your opponents are playing. That's why I was confused a little by Capello stating that 4-4-2 would be the cornerstone of his tactical approach. My question is: would Capello go with a 4-4-2 if the U.S.A (coached by the man/stadium Bruce Arena) came out with a maverick 3-5-2 formation which pinned back England's defence? Or a 5-4-1 which starved our strikers of the ball?
Perhaps not and I hope we will see a fluidity in tactics that will match up with the working of some of the great coaches in World Football. If we take 4-4-2 as a given, my team to face the U.S.A would be as follows: Green, Johnson, Terry, King, Cole, Lennon, Gerrard, Milner, Cole, Rooney, Heskey.
The defence is pretty self explanatory, except perhaps for Ledley King, who I would expect to be able to cope with the U.S attack even with his injury problems. In midfield, I would plump for the all-out pace and skill of Aaron Lennon, Steven Gerrard's work rate and long-shot ability with Joe Cole (who appears to be coming into form at a good time) on the left.
My omission of Frank Lampard will no doubt shock some people but I believe Frank looks jaded after a very long season and hasn't produced a huge deal in our recent friendlies. For that reason and because I believe James Milner offers more energy while bringing the team better shape (in filling-in for Cole), I'd put him alongside Gerrard in the centre. Up top, Rooney's world class technique makes his inclusion a no brainer whilst I reckon Emile Heskey's brute strength and hold up play will help to coax out the undoubted quality of those around him.
And so onto the American squad, who I have deliberately left till last to discuss. The reason? I don't really rate them that highly. Of course I'm aware of their decent run in the Confederations Cup but believe that both their results in that competition and their position in the official world rankings flatters to deceive.
Dissecting their squad you soon find a collection of middling players, on the books of mostly second-rate club sides such as Hannover 96, Watford, and Eintracht Frankfurt. The only player currently on the books of a class club side is Oguchi Onyewu (of Milan) and he is apparently injured.
No doubt you'll get American fans arguing that many of the players haven't reached their potential but the counter argument is that the majority of American players have reached their level, a long way from the top clubs in the world. That said, it would be stupid to discount their chances against England completely, as the U.S's team spirit is well documented and the likes of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and the aforementioned Onyewu could hurt Capello's men if left unshackled.
I'm a big believer though that class will tell and think that eight times out of ten, the superior tekkers of the English players will win the day in any match-up. On that note, I'm going for a 3-1 victory for England on Saturday in Rustenburg.
Do you agree with Tom? Does Lamps look a bit limp? Fill in the feedback form below.