So, without further ado, let's get started.
- Paul Robinson. For the first time since 1996, we have a keeper who is neither mad/deeply suspect (see the entry under James, David in the dictionary) or who is lacking mobility and decent form. He also doesn't have a ponytail.
He has been on record to say that the new ball for this World Cup will be a nightmare for goalkeepers to deal with. But on the bright side, he seems to be the only keeper who has been training with that ball in advance. Surely success comes out of such small details.
- Gary Neville. Now, I've been known to criticise both Neville brothers earlier in their careers. But it's time to give Gary his due. He is certainly an advance on the last World Cup (Danny Mills anyone?) He provides a wealth of experience at Champions League and International level and overlaps well with Beckham.
- John Terry. Jose Mourinho likes defenders. He really, really likes defenders. And thanks to Mr. Abramovitch he's got more money to spend than we can even imagine. But he's never gone out to buy one of the top defenders in the world. That's because he's already got John Terry. A true England centre half, Terry dominates in the air, is like a brick wall on the ground and has a great last minute tackle.
- Rio Ferdinand. Now Rio has his detractors, he's not the best at attending medical tests and his concentration has been known to wander. But last World Cup he was widely acclaimed for his dedication and skill. He forms a perfect partnership with Terry, adding a bit more movement and cover to the defending mix.
- Ashley Cole. Move over Roberto Carlos, this is the new most physically talented defender of the tournament. Searing pace, loves to come forward on overlapping runs, he makes the England counter-attack fast. Oh, and, he can tackle too.
On the bench for the defense we have Jamie Carragher, who's never say die spirit helped drag Liverpool to a European Cup and Sol Campbell, who played so well in the last World Cup. Strength in depth will help us shrug off any little refereeing mistakes...
For most of the last 15 years, England have had a problem. That problem is "left side midfield." Without solving that problem, it's never been clear that you can beat the good teams...
If you want to know how desparate that position has been, just think that Trevor Sinclair has played there for England...
And now, we have a genuine winger, he's young, he plays for Middlesborough and his name is Downing. He's played well in UEFA cup competition. But the best news is, he can't get in the team.
- Joe Cole has made the position his own. His habit of stepping inside has turned out to just give Ashley Cole the space to run into. Joe can dribble, like those fancy South American players, just go on a wander, beat a couple of players and then make a killer pass or shot. Sometimes in the past we've seemed to lack that key to unlock a stubborn defense. Joe Cole can be that key.
- Frank Lampard. Now, I've been known to get on the case of this Chelsea midfielder. But, for Chelsea and for England, he has this habit of popping up to score a goal. Midfield goals are what win tight matches and Lampard can put that vital volley in with a calmness few can match.
- Steven Gerrard. For those who doubt his inspirational qualities, I'll point you to the European Cup Final, or "that goal" in this year's FA Cup Final. Every team needs a player with an engine, who runs and runs, who never gives up the fight. Every pundit has said it and I'll say it one more time: Steven Gerrard can do it all. He can pass, shoot and tackle.
- David Beckham. Once again, here is a player I've maligned, particularly in the qualifying stages. He looked slow, indecisive and lacking in value. What's he doing on the right? Get a real winger on! Well, the season is over and the friendlies started. We've got a new swervy ball and all of a sudden I have to eat my words. You'll have heard that 46% of World Cup goals come from set pieces. When Beckham sends one of those swervy pinpoint crosses in, you can see the opposition goalie's heart beating in his throat. Beckham looks refreshed too, he's running better than he has in ages.
- Midfield subs:
Michael Carrick. Seems to have risen to the top of Sven's list. He provides something England haven't had in my memory. An actual planned tactical flexibility. We can play 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2 or 4-1-4-1 now. Carrick can break up play as a defensive midfielder and has the passing range to let loose Lampard, Gerrard and the strikers.
Now there are those pessimists who feel that Lampard and Gerrard can't play together very well. Too much attacking instinct, not enough common sense. But we're not having any of that on the good ship Mindless Optimism, and here's why:
Gerrard can really tackle. No ifs and buts. Even Dunga would admire some of the crunch Gerrard can produce.
Both are products of the English game. They are 90 minute box-to-box players. The rest of the world plays a defensive midfielder because they don't trust any of their attackers to actually get back and defend. Gerrard and Lampard have the engine.
Finally, the spirit of this tournament is attacking. We have a great defensive unit, it's time to have some faith! We'll play attacking football and win.
- Michael Owen. Just getting back to fitness at the right time. In fact, looking at his record for Real Madrid, it seems that all that resting only gets him more eager to score. And to quote Sven "Michael is good friends with major championships." Some players just blossom on the international stage and Owen is one of them. He might not score the wonder goal of his youth, but he's added a real sense of link up play that others in the team will score from. He remains a classical poacher, which every team needs.
- Peter Crouch. He's ungainly, robotic and very, very tall. Defenders can't help but worry about him. Sometimes that's all that is needed. But there is more, he can link up play with a good pass and seems to be hitting a scoring groove. The "big man - little man" combination is a classic with every potential to get us through the group stages.
Sub of note: Theo Walcott. He's young and he isn't Pele in the making. So what good is he? He is fast. With refs on the look out for lunging tackles, give Walcott the ball and watch him go. Especially after a hard match, defenders will be dreading his appearance.
And, one we are, in good optimistic fashion, past the group stages, we have one more thing.
As Yicky Yacky said, "a fully armed and operational battle station."
Wayne Rooney. Sven said there's only one "Wine Runey" and The Telegraph took him at his word, suggesting that even if the metatarsel didn't heal, we just strap Rooney to Crouch's back, like El Cid, to demoralise the opposition.
What is there to be said about the Roon-child that hasn't been already? He's half-orc, half-I-don't-know-what, strong and fast like a raging bull. But most of all he's just got that spark. Every team needs a spark, that moment that turns the tide. We've been on the receiving end last time around, now it's time for our Orc-boy to score that fanciful goal that lets the air out of the opposition...
And that is why it's time to get on board the Good Ship Mindless Optimism, until 5pm Saturday, anyway...
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