LONDON – Over the next two months each display by England’s World Cup hopefuls will be scrutinized by the media. Marks out of 10 will be given along with updated World Cup chances (on the plane, in contention, etc).
Television will highlight the individual performances with studio pundits analyzing and dissecting the pluses and minuses. Radio phone-ins will be a platform for the fans’ views.
There will be World Cup overkill as everybody has an opinion about the 23 players Roy Hodgson should select for Brazil.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Denmark was the last game before Hodgson names his preliminary 30-man squad on May 13. Those players will travel to Portugal for warm-weather training before the final home friendly against Peru at Wembley on May 30.
The squad then fly to Miami where they will play warmup games against Ecuador and Honduras. It will be anything but Miami nice for Hodgson when he tells the unlucky seven players they are returning to England and not flying on to Brazil as he submits his final 23-man squad to FIFA.
The biggest plus from the Denmark game was the 31-minute substitute appearance by Adam Lallana, who looked comfortable, confident and provided the cross for Daniel Sturridge’s winner.
Raheem Sterling, who like Lallana, was not even on the World Cup radar last August, continued his outstanding form for Liverpool on the national stage, combining speed, strength and unpredictability as he won only his second cap.
Injuries and a sudden loss of form apart, Hodgson probably has 15 of the 23 players inked in as the boys for Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Ben Foster, Fraser Forster.
Defenders: Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling.
Midfielders: Steve Gerrard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling.
Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge.
Dilemma one: Ashley Cole or Luke Shaw?
Cole is out of favor at Chelsea, but in winning his 107th cap against Denmark the left-back showed for the 107th time what a class act he is at the highest level.
Shaw could go on to win as many caps as Cole, 33, but the 18-year-old Southampton defender is unlikely to get the nod over a true England great.
Hodgson is by nature a conservative manager and will go for experience over potential. Cole may yet be chosen ahead of Baines at what would be his fourth World Cup.
Dilemma two: Jack Wilshere was injured again against Denmark after flying into a tackle with Daniel Agger. The Arsenal midfielder will be out for six weeks after sustaining a broken bone in his left foot.
Wilshere should be the favorite to partner Gerrard in the center of midfield, though the Arsenal player has missed one-third of his club’s games over the past two season because of injury, mainly to the troublesome left ankle.
Even before his latest setback, Wilshere seemed bothered, either physically or psychologically, by the ankle injury that sidelined him for a long spell last season and Hodgson must first monitor his comeback and then decide whether it is too risky taking him to Brazil.
Dilemma three: Ross Barkley, James Milner, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Frank Lampard, Jordan Henderson, Andros Townsend . . . which four (plus a fit Wilshere) will complete the midfield for Brazil?
Hodgson needs another midfield-holding player alongside Gerrard. Henderson is playing well with Gerrard at Liverpool, but doubts remain about him stepping up a level.
Lampard’s experience should weigh in his favor, Townsend’s speed on the wing could be crucial, Milner is a Steady Eddie player, useful to bring on to help hold a lead while Barkley’s promise may see him ahead of the Manchester United pair Cleverley and Carrick, who fail to deceive too often.
Dilemma four: Danny Welbeck, Rickie Lambert, Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe — two of these strikers will go to the finals, two will stay at home. Again, Hodgson will go with experience so Welbeck and Defoe should be on the plane to Brazil.
Carroll, who offers an alternative physical presence, has not scored a single goal for West Ham in an injury-plagued season, and while Lambert is doing well for Southampton it may not be enough for a World Cup call-up.
Dilemma five: Where to play Rooney?
Sturridge has now scored in 20 of his last 28 appearances for Liverpool and England, including 12 in his last 12. He must be played as the central striker, not in a wider role, with Rooney as a false No. 9 behind him.
England will not win the 2014 World Cup, but the emergence of younger players such as Lallana, Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and Henderson give cautious optimism that it will progress from a group also containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
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NICOLAS ANELKA and Sol Campbell are learning that while it takes a long time to earn respect in football, it can be lost in an instant.
Instead of being remembered for their considerable achievements on the pitch, the lasting memory will be of a striker who promoted anti-Semitism and a defender who believed his color barred him from being England’s longest-serving captain.
The Independent Regulatory Commission’s report of Anelka’s quenelle gesture after scoring for West Bromwich, for which he was given a five-game ban contains some of the most disturbing, vile reading in relation to a football incident.
Anelka’s defense belied belief. During the hearing, the Frenchman maintained that the gesture was only intended to “say hello” to his friend Dieudonné, it was “like a high five.” Anelka, who said some of Dieudonné’s humor was lost in translation (yes, he really did), added that he did not accept Dieudonné was anti-Semitic and was not aware of the controversy surrounding the so-called comedian when he performed the quenelle celebration.
Anelka would probably also be surprised to learn The Pope is Catholic.
Anelka first met Dieudonné in 2000 yet was unaware his fellow countryman had been indicted on eight occasions for anti-Semitic charges. After seeing footage of Dieudonné’s shows, the commission’s submission was that it is not possible sensibly to interpret this part (containing references to concentration camps and gas chambers) of the show as anything other than deeply anti-Semitic.
For mitigating factors, the commission took into account that Anelka had a clean disciplinary record.
Secondly, the gesture was not made to any person in particular.
Thirdly, the commission did not make a finding that the player is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle.
So on one hand they concluded that Dieudonné’s “humor” is “deeply anti-Semitic” but performing the gesture closely associated with him does not make that person an anti-Semite. The commission did not explain such an obvious contradiction.
Credit to the F.A. for arguing the case for a longer ban, but none to the commission who decided the punishment. It was the commission, not English football’s ruling body, who set the five-match ban. No, I can’t understand it either.
Campbell’s fall from grace concerns his color. One of Campbell’s club managers called him “the thickest player I have ever worked with.”
For Campbell, “hello” was almost a profound statement. A great defender, yes, but a captain, especially of England?
Yet Campbell said being black prevented him from being England captain “for more than 10 years.”
Only one man has captained England for longer than 10 years post-War, Billy Wright for 11.
Bobby Moore and Bryan Robson did the job for nine years, Kevin Keegan for eight. Campbell wore the armband on three occasions, the same as Sir Bobby Charlton.
So Campbell is saying the color of his skin stopped him from probably being England’s longest-serving post-War captain, claiming the Football Association is “institutionally racist.”
While Campbell was club captain at Tottenham for a few years, he did not have the role at Arsenal, and a player who barely said a word on the pitch has plenty to get off his chest now that he has an autobiography to publicize.
The England manager, not the F.A., chooses the national team captain and Campbell’s ridiculous accusations do him no credit, while those involved in the fight against racism have distanced themselves from his unsubstantiated comments.
And Campbell may find that the negative publicity generated by his views are reflected in the book’s sales.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.