6/10/10 –  Having failed to qualify for Euro 2008 last time round, could England be on the brink of something special this summer?

The short answer: NO.

People always forget that England are doomed to fail at the world cup – they always bring the same routine squad to the table with one or two “outstanding” players who we become over-reliant on.  In 1998 it was David Beckham – he scored the free-kick that got us through the group stages, but got sent off in the Argentina game by his infamous petulant kick-out at Simone – costing us the match.  In 2002 it was again Beckham’s metatarsal healing toe which brought agony to our faces.  And in 2006 Wayne Rooney became the latest victim having been sent off against Portugal and ending all of our hopes.

And now the same is true for this year’s team.  England are overly-reliant on 3 or 4 key players for this tournament, without whom they would have no chance of progressing past the semi-finals.  They are Rooney (England’s leading goal-scorer in qualifying), Lampard, Gerrard and Ashley Cole.  

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Beside from reliance on key players however, the England team as ever lacks the technical ability and cohesiveness of a world cup winning side.  A quick comparison of squad depth i.e. to the Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian or even Argentinean teams is all we need.  In fact most of Spain’s bench would have no trouble getting into our team – including Alonso, Pepe Reina, Sergio Ramos and Pedro.  But it’s not individual quality alone which stops England. 

Every successful football manager knows that international football is all about holding possession, controlling the game and having excellent finishers of the ball who can penetrate defences and operate in tiny spaces.  Sadly England lacks all of these “winning” factors.  They lack the creativity of play-makers in midfield such as Iniesta, Tevez and Sneijder, they lack natural attacking wingers such as Silva, Robinho, Messi or Ronaldo, and most of all they lack the dynamics of a controlling midfield. 

We all know Lampard and Gerrard are good box to box midfielders capable of running forward and scoring 30yd goals screamers, but the same tactics won’t work at international level.  Here you need disciplined midfielders who can get the ball back such as Mascherano (Argentina), Melo (Brazil) or de Jong (Holland).  For those unaware of England’s recent problems this is the reason Gerrard and Lamaprd are inoperable together. 

They don’t have the right characteristics to complement each other.  Back at Liverpool and Chelsea these players had true quality in Essien and Alonso to complement them and cover the gaps going forward – however Gareth is neither of these.  He is essential to England’s success sure, but that doesn’t make him good enough.  Sadly for England the star player of this role would’ve been Owen Hargreaves if he wasn’t already injured (voted best player of the 2006 world cup).

Finally we cannot review England’s chances of winning a world cup without reviewing their terrible performances in penalty shoot-outs.  In fact England have the worst record of penalties in the world cup – having lost 4/4. Even in the 2006 quarter-final when we had practised penalties religiously in training and our team had some of the best penalty takers (including Lampard, Gerrard and Hargreaves), we still failed to convert a single spot-kick.  Unfortunately if history serves us any reminders, we will not have a single chance in a shoot-out – watching England take penalties is like watching a child without armbands jumping into the sea. You can practise penalties all night long – but you cannot prepare for the mental reality and stress of a real penalty shoot-out with the weight of the country on your shoulders.

In conclusion, I will not be betting on England winning the world cup.  There are far superior teams to beat once we get to the quarter finals, we have had poor performances against France, Brazil, the Netherlands and Spain; and our overall list of injuries including Brown, Hargreaves, Ferdinand and Beckham has given us nothing but selection worries ahead of our opening USA game.  The weakness of our team at the moment is self-evident by having a 4th choice CB who has never played for England and two right-backs who have had diabolical campaigns at Liverpool.

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