Theo Walcott’s disappointing performance in England’s friendly against Egypt saw his World Cup hopes written-off by large sections of the media. Fabio Capello replaced the ineffective Arsenal youngster after 57 minutes with Shaun Wright-Phillips who went on to score England’s second goal and set up the third. Subsequently, Walcott’s below-par performance came in for scathing criticism from former England winger Chris Waddle who labelled the former Southampton star as lacking a “football brain”.
“I’ve never seen him develop. He just doesn’t understand the game for me – where to be running, when to run inside a full back, when to just play a one-two. It’s all off the cuff.”
“I just don’t think he’s got a football brain and he’s going to have problems.”
But three days later Walcott hit back by instinctively cutting inside the Burnley defence and firing home with his left foot to give Arsenal a timely 2-1 lead in his first full 90 minutes of league action this season. Were it not for Nicklas Bendtner’s woeful finishing Walcott would also have claimed an assist with the type of glorious curling cross David Beckham would be proud of. Arguably it was his understanding of the game and how to utilise his pace that caused the Burnley backline so many problems. So, with Walcott’s chances of booking a seat on the plane to South Africa seemingly rescued by one performance, who else can take heart and reignite the dying embers of their World Cup dreams?
Before rupturing the anterior crucial ligament in his left knee last April, Phil Jagielka was establishing himself as a regular member of Capello’s England squads. A string of commanding club performances had seen him rewarded with three England caps and he went on to be crowned Everton’s Player of the Season. His return from injury last month was delayed when Everton’s reserve fixture against Bolton was postponed due to a frozen pitch, but an injury to Philippe Senderos at Sporting Lisbon two days later saw Jagielka return to first-team action as a substitute. Everton manager David Moyes fielded Jagielka from the start in Sunday’s 5-1 demolition of Hull and the former Sheffield United stopper knows a return to the form he showed last season will have him knocking on Capello’s door once again.
Jagielka said the greatest moment of his club career had been taken away when his knee injury ruled him out of Everton’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, so he would no doubt recognise the World Cup as the greatest moment of his International career. Given the continuing doubts over Rio Ferdinand’s long-term fitness and lack of players staking a claim to deputise, could Jagielka yet force his way into Capello’s plans?
Suitcase for South Africa: In the cupboard, but not beyond reach.
Joe Cole was one of England’s best players at the 2006 World Cup. Not only did he score a sensational goal against Sweden, but time and again his trickery on the left wing caused problems for the opposition. However, Cole has cut a figure of frustration at Stamford Bridge this season as he looks to rediscover top form after a year out with a serious knee injury. With just ten weeks to go until Capello names his provisional 30-man squad time is fast running out. However, with Chelsea chasing Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup glory, there appear to be plenty of games for Cole to prove his worth.
Much of Cole’s lack of action can be attributed to the rich form of Florent Malouda, but against Egypt it was Steven Gerrard who was once again asked to play in the unfamiliar left midfield role. Therefore, if Cole, like Walcott, can silence those who doubt his World Cup credentials then surely Capello must give him a chance?
Suitcase for South Africa: Empty and wide open – football kit one side of it, holiday gear on the other.
What a season it has been for Sol Campbell. In September he made his first and final appearance in a Notts County shirt away to Morecambe. He left shortly after claiming promises had not been kept and there was speculation this could spell the end of his career. Fast forward a few months and having been re-signed by Arsenal, Campbell has scored a vital Champions League goal at Porto and deputised for the injured William Gallas at the heart of defence. So having forced his way back into the Premier League can Sol stake a claim for a place on the plane to South Africa?
Campbell may have lost a yard of pace over the years, but the international game is not the same as the Premier League. Italy have opted for experienced, aging defenders over the years such as Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta, so as an Italian, might Capello do the same?
Suitcase for South Africa: Next to the medical box – in case of emergency.
With Glen Johnson slowly feeling his way back to fitness and Wes Brown ruled out for the next four to six weeks, Capello will no doubt be casting a watchful eye over other alternatives at right back. Gary Neville has been plagued by injury himself for the last three years, but in recent weeks he appears to have put those troubles behind him. Neville’s display at Old Trafford against Milan in the Champions League was reminiscent of the Gary Neville of old. Admittedly Ronaldinho’s failure to track back gave Neville the time and space to push forward, but the cross he supplied for Wayne Rooney’s first goal was first class.
Should injuries continue to curse England’s first choice right backs then surely Capello could do worse than call on Neville’s experience?
Suitcase for South Africa: Frayed around the edges and hasn’t been used properly for some time. Remains to be seen if it is still up to the job.
Since joining Manchester City Joleon Lescott has failed to reproduce the consistent form he showed at Everton. But perhaps his lack of form can be attributed to the number of new players at Eastlands, the change in manager or his two months out following knee surgery to clear floating debris. However, during his time at Everton, Lescott demonstrated he is capable of playing at left-back or centre back, as well as contributing goals from set-pieces. With Capello sweating on the fitness of Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, Lescott stands out as a player able to cover either position and his selection would free up another place in the squad for a fifth striker.
Lescott can expect to play a significant part in City’s battle to finish fourth and will no doubt be watched by Capello a number of times with games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa coming up. Can he remind Capello why City were prepared to spend more than £20million for his services and make it into his provisional squad?
Suitcase for South Africa: In the spare room and may not be needed.