LONDON – England plays Brazil in a friendly on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. Whether England will return to Brazil for next year’s World Cup finals remains in the balance.
Its performance in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland underlined yet again, as if we needed to be reminded, that for England winning games is as difficult as it is for opponents to beat it.
England has played six qualifying games for Brazil 2014 to date, winning three and drawing three. The problem is, you don’t reach for the World Cup with draws.
Only the group winners qualify for the finals automatically and if Group H leader Montenegro beats Ukraine at home next Friday, it will open up a five-point lead over England.
The group finale is likely to see a photo finish, but England does not have a particularly good team and lack the strength in depth needed at a major finals.
With Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere back for the remainder of the qualifiers England’s midfield will be more solid and maybe Wigan’s Callum McManaman can be fast-tracked as an international of huge potential.
Michael Carrick remains an enigma; man of most matches for Manchester United yet for England a player of little impact. Frank Lampard scored his 29th goal for England against Ireland, though how long the 34-year-old can defy the sands of time remains to be seen.
Central defenders Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are not in the class of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand at their peak while in attack Wayne Rooney does little to suggest that at 27 his best days are not behind him.
The energy, strength and joy that we almost took for granted are seen only fleetingly these days, while wingers Theo Wallcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have speed but not the clinical finishing required at the highest level.
The current non-vintage Brazil team will need every bit of home advantage come the World Cup finals. More immediately it will be a surprise if England leaves Rio even with its trademark draw.
WHEN LUIS SUAREZ was handed a 10-game ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, which I shall come to later, the Football Association made the point that professional footballers are role models and should behave as such.
There should have been an asterisk with “unless it is Ashley Cole.”
Cole is not a role model. Yes, he has been England’s most consistent performer over the past 10 years, but for the F.A. to reward him for winning 100 caps with the captaincy in England’s drab 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday makes a mockery of leading England and its contention that players must be role models.
The Chelsea defender wanted the reward without the responsibility and the F.A. caved in. He craved for the armband, but not to speak to the press, a commitment that comes with the job.
OK Ashley, whatever makes you happy.
How on earth did F.A. chairman David Bernstein feel when he shook hands with Cole pre-match when earlier in the season the organization he heads fined the left-back £90,000 for calling them a “bunch of t—-s”?
Cole was given the warm reception by the Wembley crowd his football ability deserved, but the England captaincy goes further than being the best on the field.
LUIS SUAREZ (Liverpool & Uruguay): an apology.
I apologize for being one of many (in fact, every) English journalist to criticize you. I read this week that you said you are not prepared to “keep putting up with the English journalists who batter me in an unfair way.”
I am sorry that we felt it necessary to criticize you for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United. I should not really have criticized you either when you bit Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea, the second opponent you have sunk your teeth into during your career.
I also put my hands up for saying your diving goes against the spirit of football.
So Luis Suarez, diver, biter and someone who makes racist remarks, if you wish to ply your trade in another country I wish you every success. But just a few words of advice, my old amigo. I suspect Spain, which appears to be your preferred destination, may also have some nasty football writers who will criticize you if your vile habits continue.
You say you would find it hard to turn down a move to Real Madrid. I guess just about every player in the world would say the same, but if Liverpool decides to sell you, Luis — and it is their decision as you are under contract — whichever club signs you will at least have a man who does not go back on his word . . . for at least a month.
In April, you said: “I’ll be here (Liverpool) next season, yes. Not only am I playing for Liverpool I am playing in one of the best leagues in the world. I’ve fought hard to get where I am, and to be playing in the Premier League having watched it from afar is a dream come true for me.”
Something for us to chew over in the coming weeks.
BE CAREFUL what you wish for. Stoke City supporters were granted their wish when Tony Pulis was sacked, but the appointment of Mark Hughes as his successor has hardly been the cue for street parties in the Potteries.
Hughes did a solid job in charge of Wales, Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham. Then came what Stoke chairman Peter Coates called “a blip” at Queens Park Rangers. The mother of all blips, in fact.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.