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?

Well, we’re less than two weeks away from the start of the World Cup, and just 48 hours away from Fabio Capello announcing his official squad. The easy thing to do would have been for me to wait for the official squad to be confirmed, and then criticise him for who he has left out. However, while there’s nothing much happening at Notts or Celtic, I’ve decided to step into Capello’s shoes and name my own squad, so here goes.

Goalkeepers

Anybody who proposes going to the World Cup with less than three ‘keepers is a sandwich short of a picnic, so this one is easy:

Rob Green, David James and Joe Hart

Defenders

OK, now we get more difficult. The actual back four picks itself when everybody is fit, so Glen Johnson, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are already on the plane. However, it is important to ensure there is plenty of defensive cover. Ledley King is a must as far as I’m concerned, and despite his dodgy knees I rate him as one of the two best central defenders in the country (alongside Jonathan Woodgate). There’s certainly a similarity to Paul McGrath there, so despite his lack of training, his quality puts him in the 23. I also think the experience and versatility of Jamie Carragher should also see him get on the plane, and Leighton Baines has had a good season for Everton. So who doesn’t go?

I’m not the biggest fan of Michael Dawson personally, although he has had a great season for Spurs. Nevertheless, he’d be the first to be cut from my squad. I’d also leave Matthew Upson out, not through any fault of his own, but simply because there is no room for a fifth central defender. Warnock is pretty much tied for me with Baines, but the Everton man edges it for experience, so Warnock is another to miss out.

Midfielders

Again, the midfield just about picks itself, although the fitness of Gareth Barry is paramount. Obviously, by picking my squad 48 hours earlier than the actual squad I have no idea if he will certainly make it. However, for the sake of this exercise I’m going to assume he is fit. So Barry, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard pick themselves. However, with Barry struggling, the choice of another holding midfielder is key, and that player for me is Scott Parker. A great deal of experience under his belt, Parker would be perfect to come in if Barry breaks down. Because Parker is going, for me that means Huddlestone is not. Capeelo has said all along that players will be picked on form rather than reputation, and for that reason I also feel Michael Carrick simply must be left out the squad. I don’t think I can remember a poorer season for him over his entire career, and I’d certainly feel more comfortable with Barry or Parker in there. So now we have just one midfield place left to go, so who is the unfortunate player?

Quite simply, James Milner has to go to the World Cup. Being able to play across the entire midfield certainly helps, but his form has been exceptional. Adam Johnson is the same, and has been a fabulous signing for Manchester City. An England squad without him seems incomplete in my humble opinion. Aaron Lennon has been terrorising defenders all season long, and his crossing has greatly improved so he goes. And despite a relatively poor year, Walcott offers versatility, so he is on the plane. Unfortunately, that means no place for SWP, but there are only so many wingers one squad can have!

Forwards

And on to forwards. As Brian Clough once said, “a forward’s job is to put the ball in the net. If he’s not doing that, he’s not doing his job”. Perhaps that is a little unfair of Emile Heskey, but quite simply I cannot understand why Heskey should go. His club form has been terrible, and my good friend Ross Mantle is more of a goal threat than the big man. For that reason alone, Heskey is the unlucky seventh man to be left out. So my whole 23 man squad is below:

  1. Robert Green
  2. Joe Hart
  3. David James
  4. Leighton baines
  5. Jamie Carragher
  6. Ashley Cole
  7. Rio Ferdinand
  8. Glen Johnson
  9. Ledley King
  10. John Terry
  11. Gareth Barry
  12. Joe Cole
  13. Steven Gerrard
  14. Adam Johnson
  15. Frank Lampard
  16. Aaron Lennon
  17. James Milner
  18. Scott Parker
  19. Theo Walcott
  20. Darren Bent
  21. Peter Crouch
  22. Wayne Rooney
  23. Jermaine Defoe

As for my side for the opening match? Well, that’s another post altogether. As always, I’d appreciate your comments.

Ah, good old Arsene Wenger. I get so much material from his comments, and once again one of his interviews has brought up another interesting topic. I actually quite like the guy, but sometimes he makes the odd quip I vehemently disagree with. He made such a comment just yesterday.

Club versus country arguments are tricky affairs these days, and Wenger has reacted angrily to a question about Theo Walcott and the World Cup.

“We do not pay players to go to the World Cup. We pay them to do well for Arsenal. The first pride of a man is to do well for the guy who pays you in life,” he said.

Now as much as I understand the sentiment, I cannot help but disagree. Yes, Arsenal pay the player, they coach him and they develop him. But if you were to ask any player ‘what do you aspire to?’, anybody whose first answer does not include ‘play at a world cup’ wants shooting.

I understand Wenger’s perspective. I appreciate it must infuriate managers when their star players are unavailable for weeks or even months at a time, even more so when they get injured playing for their country. A player getting injured in an international friendly must be the worst of all.

However, if you were to ask an English football fan would they rather their club win a trophy or England win an international competition, I believe 9 out of 10 would take the national team. And, quite frankly, so they should. (I’m not quite sure about Scotland fans, particularly when you take the Old Firm into account. It would seem Celtic and Rangers fans don’t want to agree on anything, so in my experience many have abandoned Scotland for the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland/England. But to avoid opening a can of worms, I’ll stick with England fans for the sake of this blog.)

Now Mr Wenger’s first loyalty is always going to be to Arsenal, and I would hope his players have the professionalism to be able to put the World Cup to the back of their minds. That being said, EVERY Premier League player should want to go to the World Cup. I believe Wenger would have got more out of his players by playing up the World Cup, not diminishing it. Indeed, Steve Bruce took that approach with Darren Bent, and that praise for his striker will lift his confidence and lead to better performances. It may even earn him a call up ahead of Heskey or Crouch. Indeed, if goals are the barometer for a striker, he’d be on the plane already.

One of my pet hates as a football fan is seeing a plethora of players pull out of international squads, normally at the request of their clubs. Manchester United used to be the biggest culprits. How many times was Paul Scholes removed from England duty because of ‘injury’, only to line up for United the following Saturday? Now many top clubs complain about ‘pointless friendlies’. I couldn’t disagree more. An international manager has maybe a dozen games a year to assess his squad. He needs friendlies in order to have his players gel before qualifiers and international tournaments. However, clubs pulling all their best players out of international squads MAKE the friendlies pointless. And I can give you an example.

England’s game against Brazil a couple of weeks ago had possibly 2 of Capello’s favoured 11. Because of that, England could not properly test themselves against the best in the world, the reason why the friendly was booked in the first place. (Well, that and an add-on to the Wembley friendly a couple of years ago.) But it was the actions of the clubs that made this game worthless. Yes, I accept there were a few genuine injuries, but how many players were back in their club sides the next week?

Trouble is, the clubs have so much power these days. I can see international friendlies becoming a thing of the past, simply because clubs won’t release players. But it doesn’t stop there. I seem to remember several clubs trying to stop players going to the Olympics and the African Cup of Nations. It’s ridiculous! Top clubs sign players who are internationals and then COMPLAIN when they play for their country! Mind-boggling.

The danger here though is if clubs can stop a player from playing in a friendly, then move on to the Olympics and African nations, what’s to stop clubs pulling players out of the European Championships or the Copa America? And then moving on to the World Cup?

Now some may say I’m being OTT. Fine, I may be a bit of an alarmist, but there’s a reason for that. There is nothing like international football for bringing the country together (or tearing it apart, depending on the result!) How much do we look forward to the World Cup/ European Championships, to large barbeques or days in the pub? How much do we enjoy the camaraderie shared with fans of every club, of congas in the street or jumping in fountains? How many of us have experienced nights we’ll never ever forget through the beauty of international football?

Those nights to me are sacred. The massive highs and the crushing lows that only come with the international game, and they MUST be preserved.

Portugal recently insisted Christiano Ronaldo reported to them despite Real’s protestations he was injured. I can’t but help applaud Carlos Queiroz for his standpoint, and if I was England manager I’d do the same. I think it’s time to end the sicknote mentality, and make clubs understand that national sides supercede all club sides.

Under Fabio Capello, England have a manager strong enough to do just that. Wenger can stick his bottom lip out all he wants, but Capello will undoubtedly pull rank if he has to. And that, my friends, will see the theatre of international football live long into the night.

Roll on June 11th.