OK, my last two posts have been very down about England’s World Cup chances. They have been purely reactive in nature, and have probably demonstrated my abject disappointment in the squad. However, as always my pessimism is short-term. (Maybe watching Mike Bassett: England Manager has cheered me up! There’s always another game!)

The first World Cup I ever recall was Italia 90. England began with a 1-1 draw with Ireland, followed by a goalless draw with the Dutch (sound familiar?) They then managed a 1-0 win over Egypt and progressed through the group stages, and eventually to the Semi-finals.

No matter how bad you feel, how thoroughly hacked off you are, how downright angry you’ve got, England have another chance on Wednesday. A lucky 1-0 win and the tournament kicks off properly. Time to forget about last night’s disappointment and get behind the side.

Let’s just hope Capello picks the right team!

As regular readers may know, generally I like to sleep on performances before I post my views. Last night I wasn’t able to do that, hence my posting within a couple of hours. As a result, this post won’t be too long, but I do have a couple of points to make on last night’s England performance.

The first one is an age-old-adage, a conversation which has been taking place in pubs around England for the best part of a decade. I’m amazed I’m still having to say this, but here goes: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard cannot play in midfield together. Steven Gerrard is not a winger, right or left, or a holding midfield player. He is an offensive central midfielder, or alternatively what the Italians call a “trequartista”, somebody who operates in ‘the hole’ behind a main striker. Considering he is one of England’s best players, he should be played in one of those positions.

When Capello began his job, he told us players would be picked on “form and fitness” and not reputation. How then, can he justify the inclusion of Emile Heskey, and indeed, Wayne Rooney? Last night I added my voice to the growing call for Capello to change the shape of the England side to benefit Rooney. Today I have changed my mind, and if Capello is to stick to his original claim, he should also stick with the current shape.

Instead, he should remove Lampard, Heskey and Rooney from the side (although even if Rooney was on form I’d drop him for his petulance) and move Gerrard into the middle with Barry. From here he can dominate the midfield, safe in the knowledge he has Barry shoring up the defence. I do think Joe Cole adds to the side, and he would be my choice for the left, adding some sparkle to the side.

And then up front. No Heskey, to be replaced by Peter Crouch. OK, Crouch isn’t a perfect centre-forward, but he is a goal threat. And Rooney to be replaced by Defoe. Very much a goal threat, a six-yard box striker, and the all-Tottenham strike combination have the benefit of playing together for their club.

I suppose I should finish this post by giving my take on why Rooney has been so poor. Many people have suggested he is “burnt out”, or carrying an injury. For me though, it is a mental issue. I believe he is under too much pressure; the only potent goal threat in the team. Playing alongside Heskey does him no favours on that front. Perhaps starting on the bench will help to motivate him for the next match? Who knows.

All I do know is a rapid transformation is required in the next 5 days. Otherwise, Mr Capello may well find himself with a P45 waiting for him when he gets home.

As our regular readers will know, sometimes I warn you in advance when there is a rant coming on. I trust for tonight, that none of you would expect anything less…

So where do I begin? Wow. Just wow. What an utter shambles that performance really was. No heart, no soul, no iota of quality. No drive, no commitment, and absolutely no desire. Where was the one quality midfielder, ready to put his foot on the ball, and grab the game by the scruff of the neck? Where was the impudent wide man, ready to run at the defenders and supply the forwards with a killer cross? And where was the brave centre forward, ready to put his head in where it hurts to grab that decisive goal? The answer to all of these questions is easy: nowhere. England were a shambles, from the manager to every single player on the pitch. Let us start at the start, shall we?

After the match against the USA, I felt Fabio Capello received some highly unnecessary stick. However, after tonight’s performance he will get utterly slated, and deservedly so. To be honest, I’ll happily kick that stick off.

My good friend Ross wrote a piece the other day in defence of Rob Green. Fair play to Ross, he was bang on the money. I personally was very disappointed that Green was dropped, and I feel it is now evident that Green will play no further part of this competition. Indeed, dropping a ‘keeper after a mistake is a good way to utterly demolish his confidence, and the news that Green only discovered his fate through the press will only further that ideal. Own goal then, Mr Capello.

Secondly, “Don Fabio” stuck with the most impotent striker of the top 10 nations at the World Cup by picking Heskey. Honestly Mr Capello, why? I’ve quoted Brian Clough on this blog before (even as a Notts fan!) and I’ll do so again: “the first job of a striker is to put the ball in the net”. Emile Heskey averages a goal every 8.4 games for England. How the hell does he get in the side? Then of course you can ask why arguably England’s most creative player, Joe Cole, didn’t even get on as a substitute, or why Peter Crouch got an entire 10 minutes.

Capello could quite easily have changed the shape of the side tonight, something which would suit both Gerrard and Rooney, arguably England’s best two players. In turn, this would add Cole to a side woefully lacking in creativity, something which just might help unlock that Algerian door.

Even if Capello hadn’t wanted to change the side, he could easily have picked Crouch. Although he has his critics, Crouch has a better International goalscoring record than any of the other strikers in the squad (averaging a goal every 1.8 games, over Rooney’s goal every 2 and a half games) Crouch is widely criticised for only scoring goals against “minnows”. Algeria are ranked 22 places below England and are hardly Brazil, so what is the issue?

Then there is the performance of Wayne Rooney: thoroughly out-of-sorts. Whether the issue is a mental one, unhappy with Capello’s tactics, or a physical one, it might well be an idea to remove him from the side for the Slovenia game. Jermaine Defoe will have a point to prove, and he and his Spurs strike partner Crouch might just be the right call. (penny for the thoughts of Darren Bent, mind!)

So are there any positives from the performance? Arguably, no, none at all. OK, so the inclusion of Barry helped the balance of the side, but we all knew that already. Lampard and Gerrard cannot play together, so Barry was always going to improve that side of the game. However, that is it.

I cannot finish this post without addressing Rooney’s post-match comments. For anybody who stormed off after the match, there’s a video below.

Yes Wayne, the England squad were booed. Why? Because England allegedly have some of the best players in the world, most of whom are paid in excess of £100,000 a week, yet they cannot beat an African side who have never progressed from the group stages. Not only that, but most of the England fans who have travelled to the game have spent thousands of pounds and travelled thousands of miles for the privilege. Tell me, what EXACTLY do you expect? Ask yourself how you’d feel if you’d spent 10 or even 20 per cent of your annual income to witness that monstrosity. How do you think you’d feel?

So we look forward to Wednesday and Slovenia. Will Capello learn his lesson and change the shape of the side? Personally, I doubt it. Mercifully, England’s future is still in their own hands, and fingers crossed they’ll capitalise on their good fortune. much like they did in Italia 90. However, I’d suggest much more likely is the idea of seeing the squad join the French on that first flight home.

So we are a week into the tournament, everybody is buzzing with excitement and marvelling at the fabulous football on display night after night; enthralled by brilliant goals and revelling in the atmosphere of the greatest competition on Earth. Oh, what’s that? No you’re not? Most games have been rubbish, hardly any goals have been scored and the vuvuzelas are driving you up the wall? Thank Yoda it’s not just me!

Before I go on I’d like to apologise up front; I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll be as brief as possible.

I’m generally the World Cup’s biggest fan. I do everything I can to watch as many matches as possible, from the big boys of Brazil, Spain and Holland to the minnows of New Zealand and North Korea. I’ve watched 15 of the 16 games so far, and feel quite deflated about the quality of the tournament.

OK, early on in the competition, teams will feel that playing for a draw is acceptable. After all, getting off the mark in the first game is vital, and how many times do you hear the phrase “you don’t want to peak too soon”? So maybe teams are going all “George Graham” on us, and not having a go? Possibly.

Quite simply, the tournament has really lacked any genuine quality. The question we have to ask is why?

Many players, managers and pundits alike have blamed the official ‘Jabulani’ ball, claiming it is difficult to control and causes goalkeepers major issues. Makers Adidas have described the Jabulani as being “the roundest football ever”, in an effort to lead to more goals. Now that I can understand, because let’s face it, any time ‘keepers are having problems is good for us as fans. We all want to see goals, and spectacular 30-yarders are particularly special for us. So ‘keepers struggling is fantastic.

But then we’ve also heard that the ball is “difficult to control”, with players from many squads largely condemning it. However, surely I’m not the only fan to think ‘will you just shut up and get on with it’? To me the excuse ‘the ball is too round’ is up there with Ol’ Red Nose’s excuse about United’s players not being able to see each other in their grey shirts!

Adidas have instead hit out at the players, and their preparation. They blame a combination of a lack of practise and the game being played at altitude. Indeed, I can certainly understand the altitude argument. Every rugby fan (and physicist, for that matter) knows that matches played at altitude mean longer goal kicking is possible. (Just look at Mourne Steyn for the Springboks during last year’s Lions tour) I refuse to accept that football management and players were not aware of this phenomenon, so they should have prepared for it. On this note I unreservedly agree with Adidas.

My only quibble about the ball is the fact that Adidas supplied it to the Germans six months before the World Cup kicked off. Understandable I suppose, a German company attempting to aid the German national team, but it’s not really in the spirit of fair play. It would have been nice to see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard “getting their eye in” with the new ball, as it would for the rest of the world. However, it is just a football. If you’re being paid the amount some of these players are, you should be able play with tennis ball, let alone a new light size 5 football. Just look at Maradona doing just that below (apologies for the music, by the way!)

Then of course there is the vuvuzelas. The BBC have apparently received 545 complaints about the vuvuzelas in their coverage, and players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have joined the calls for FIFA to demand they are banned. Now I will admit the vuvuzelas are an irritant, but the BBC receiving complaints just seems ludicrous. What exactly do people expect the Beeb to do? Complete waste of effort from 545 people, in my humble opinion.

However, I can understand the players voicing their criticisms, even if I’m not sure they’re valid. Obviously, deafening noise makes communication difficult for the players, but if players can talk to each other in Old Firm games, or the Milan Derby, then their argument is null and void.

No, the way the quality of the tournament will improve is simply tactics. Managers need to remove the shackles on players, adopt a more attacking mentality and just let them go for it. As always, I’m optimistic this will be the case once we get to the last group games and the knock out stages (with the exception of Italy, obviously!)

England can easily do this by ensuring Heskey never gets another kick of the Jabulani (or any other football, for that matter.) Gerrard playing further up the field can only be good for England, and getting Joe Cole into the side will add to the side’s creativity.

Add to this a little shooting practise, there’s no reason at all to suggest England can’t do well in this tournament. However, whether they have the mentality to get past the likes of the Dutch or the Germans, only time will tell.

How do you feel about the World Cup? Have you been disappointed, or are you enjoying the tension of the tournament. Let me know below.

So here we are then, just another day to go before the World Cup starts. I don’t know about you, but I’m almost wetting myself in excitement.

I love the World Cup. I especially love going out to watch matches with a combination of England, Scotland and Ireland fans as the atmosphere and banter are just brilliant. It is a shame that this tournament will be missing both sets of fans (I’m certain the South African publicans are quite dismayed!) but the tournament has the promise of being quite some spectacle.

The South Africans are creating a phenomenal atmosphere already, and the ‘vuvuzela’ is something I think we’ll all be very familiar with in the next few days. However, despite my excitement there is a little feeling of disappointment inside me. I don’t want to get too deep into that negativity on the eve of the World Cup but I refuse to ‘gloss over’ it. Instead, I’ll be brief.

So many companies have priced supporters from the rest of the world out of going to the competition. Flights and hotels have been out of so many people’s price range, so the competition may lack the ‘cosmopolitan’ feel many were hoping for. Much of the country’s infrastructure is behind schedule, such as road-widening and transport links. Even the police have already shown that they’ll be extremely heavy-handed quite simply out of necessity. Understandable when the ticketing systems appear faulty, such as the Johannesburg stampede a few days ago, but there has been several years to resolve this. FIFA have claimed they are not responsible for this, and I really want to believe them, but with their record I’ll hold judgement, thank you very much! Then there is South Africa’s extraordinary crime rate….

That being said, the South Africans have been looking forward to this since FIFA awarded them the competition, and will be determined to show the rest of the world that our fears are unfounded. Indeed, they have put on brilliant tournaments in the past. Last year’s Lions tour was exceptional (despite the dodgy refereeing decisions!) and so was the Rugby World Cup of 1995, so the country has a history of delivering on the big stages.

But now on to the football itself, and how do we think the tournament will go. I for one rate England’s chances. There’s a clear ‘plan B’ at this competition, something Sven could never manage. Providing England don’t suffer a major injury crisis you never know. My guess is the semi finals, and from there who knows? But perhaps that’s the idealist speaking.

If I’m being realistic, the best side in the world is the Spanish. With a midfield including the likes of Xavi, Fabregas and in my opinion, the best midfielder on the planet, Andres Iniesta, they have a chance. When they have Fernando Torres and David Villa up front, they look frightening! Then there is Brazil, who always perform. But that’s the easy option.

I’m expecting the Ivory Coast to perform, and the entire African continent to get behind them after South Africa’s group stage elimination. Indeed, I fully expect Portugal to be out after the group games, especially if Côte d’Ivoire get Drogba fit. I even have a sneaky fiver on the Dutch, which at 14/1 looks a steal.

All I do know is I will do everything I can to ensure I don’t miss a single kick. I hope you’ll all enjoy it as much as I do, and get yourselves back here so we can discuss the tournament as it happens. It’s moments like this the ‘beer fridge’ was invented for! Let’s hope that beer is used for celebration and not commiseration this time around…

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Well, we can see my man Ross’ take on the England squad. He’s clearly disappointed with who has been picked, or more to the point, who has been left out. I’m not feeling quite so negative, however.

I think Upson has been picked over Dawson because he has more experience, and being left-footed, he also offers more balance. My biggest disappointment is that Capello didn’t just take the seven defenders, as this might have allowed an extra midfielder. I totally understand the omission of Walcott, who hasn’t performed since that hat-trick in Croatia.

However, I feel Adam Johnson would have been a really shrewd pick from Capello, with him being naturally left footed he offers real balance, and he can play on the right if necessary. I think Capello has missed a trick by leaving him at home.

As for Heskey over Bent…..

Let us know what your thoughts are about the squad. Are you disappointed? Can England challenge for the Cup?

Good to see BBC 3 making programmes like this.

Basically, in the midst of our collective “World Cup Fever”, some talking heads got together to ponder England’s worst ever team, and here it is.

GK- Bonnetti
RB – W.Barton
LB-  P.Neville
CH- Curle
CH- Terry
RW- Dyer
LW- Hodge
CM- C Palmer
CM- J. Barton
ST – John Fashanu
ST – Ricketts

Not really too much to complain about here, but I’d like to defend Fash a bit. I mean, it’s not really fair to slate a man who only played twice for Engalnd and didn’t score, especially when Heskey has somehow accrued nearly 60 caps and has scored less than 10 goals. and as for John Terry, sleeping with your team mates’ ex, while not nice, doesn’t make him the “worst”. Same thing with Joey Barton and Keith Curle, I mean, they weren’t classic players by any means, but to say they were the actual worst? Seems very harsh to me. Surely the worst players are the ones who have had chance after chance and have still under performed? So Dyer is worth his place to me.

Fash - Underated, Surely?

So come on, who are the actual worst players to have ever pulled on the shirt?