Poor England. In football circles, they are not renowned for their beautiful footwork, or their creative formations, or their defensive prowess. Instead, the nation that takes credit for giving the world modern football is most known for being horribly unlucky—a reputation that the English themselves propagate. But as the Three Lions remain one of only seven nations who have hoisted the World Cup trophy, and are about to embark on their 13th trip in 60 years to the tournament, just how unfortunate have the English really been?
It’s quite possible that Fabio Capello spilled salt or walked beneath a ladder, because the English national team have been hit with a spell of bad luck. This season saw injuries to Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, David Beckham, Owen Hargreaves, Aaron Lennon, and Wayne Rooney. Lescott, Beckham, and Hargreaves were left off the 30-man, Barry’s fitness is in doubt, and even Ferdinand might not see much playing time.
One of the more dramatic spells of bad luck is probably more aptly termed a bad decision, with former captain John Terry choosing to sleep with defender Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend. Capello stripped Terry of his armband and passed it on to the vice-captain, Rio Ferdinand, whose back injury may prevent him from wearing it much. Bridge then declared himself out of the running for South Africa, although most England fans believe that much more qualified left-backs exist—although those defenders might want to leave their WAGs back home.
Can England overcome this spell of bad luck? Of the 12 goal-scorers in qualification play, all are named in the provisional squad. The majority of the starting XI will remain consistent, save for a possible Barry replacement in midfield and the yet-undecided strike partner for Wayne Rooney. Although it may not be the most exciting of squads, or even composed of the most talented English players, it is a solid side that have learned to work well together.
England’s problem remains inside their heads. The mental anguish of penalty kicks, which brought their World Cup campaigns of 2006, 1998, and 1990 to shuddering halts, still bring tears to many an English fan’s eye—and turmoil to a player’s brain. This year, the Three Lions also have to contend with a ghost first raised sixty years ago, when the USA beat England 1-0 in 1950. On June 12, England will come face to face with their demons, and should have the strength to vanquish them. Just don’t tell them that this is World Cup is unlucky 13.
How They Got Here
England qualified decisively for World Cup 2010, with nine wins and only one loss. They kicked off their campaign against Andorra, when substitute Joe Cole scored a second-half brace in the span of eleven minutes to hand England a 0-2 victory. They went on to trounce Croatia, their nemesis who prevented them entering Euro 2008, 1-4 with help from a hat-trick from Theo Walcott. They increased their goal totals further with a 5-1 win over Kazakhstan with a brace from Wayne Rooney, who repeated this feat in the 1-3 victory over Belarus.
Ukraine provided the first significant threat to the English team’s perfect record when the teams met at Wembley, but a John Terry hook in the 85th minute brought the Three Lions a 2-1 victory. England were only able to score four in their second meet-up with Kazakhstan, and with a Kazakhstan header ruled offside, left with a 0-4 victory. A fourth minute headed goal from Rooney provided the starting point in their 6-0 crushing of Andorra, in which the visitors had no significant attempts on goal.
The Three Lions welcomed Croatia to Wembley, determined to both make amends for 2008 and to seal their place in South Africa. Braces from both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard helped to ratchet up the goal total before Rooney knocked in another, finishing with a 5-1 scoreline and a trip to the World Cup. England’s perfect record was broken by Ukraine, however, after keeper Robert Green was sent off inside 15 minutes, leaving them with a 1-0 loss. But England provided a strong finish against Belarus, with a brace by Peter Crouch and a supplemental goal by Shaun Wright-Phillips giving them a 3-0 victory. In the end, England scored an impressive 34 goals to their opponents’ six.
How They've Fared Before
Twelve World Cup appearances have resulted in one trophy, earned on home soil in 1966.
Wayne Rooney will be England's main goal scoring threat come June 12. (Photo Content © 2010 ZumaPress All rights reserved.)
Players To Watch
I’ve already told you that it’s absolutely essential to keep an eye on the magical midfield talents of Frank Lampard. If you’re interested in examining the player whose inclusion in the provisional 30-man rosters caused the greatest outcry among England fans, check out my piece defending the selection of Emile Heskey. Otherwise, keep an eye on these five:
Wayne Rooney: An incredible nine goals in ten qualifiers, anyone who follows football in any capacity knows why to watch Rooney. This season has been golden for the Manchester United talisman, who, in addition to being able to score off both feet, worked his tail off this season to find a way to score with his head. Rooney is almost like an optical illusion on the football pitch, leaving everyone wondering how such a squat man manages to move with such speed and appear to be in two places at once.
Aaron Lennon: Tottenham Hotspur star Aaron Lennon has improved by leaps and bounds in the past two seasons. While once known for his burning speed and little else, Lennon has learned how to beat defenders one on one and the quality of his delivery has improved markedly. If healthy, he could be a nightmare for opposing full-backs.
Ashley Cole: Although USMNT fans went cra zy for Landon Donovan at Everton, Chelsea and England fans nearly put a bounty on his head when Ashley Cole went down with a broken ankle after a challenge by Donovan. Fortunately, this world-class left-back has returned to full fitness, and England fans can rest easy knowing that Cole and Terry can likely share the same woman in perfect harmony. Ash is certainly a forward-moving defender who loves a goal-scoring opportunity, so look for him in the other side’s third.
Joe Cole: Although midfielder Joe Cole was left out for most of the qualification campaign, he scored its first two goals against Andorra. Joe is one of England’s most naturally gifted players, with superb control of the ball and the ability to unlock opposing defences. With Barry being hurt and an ever-present question about Steven Gerrard’s ability to work with Lampard, cross your fingers that Capello shakes things up a bit and lets this Cole start a few matches.
James Milner: Speaking of midfield, keep your eyes open for appearances by this PFA Young Player of the Year, whose creative play at Aston Villa this season has turned quite a few heads. In fact, you might need to look for him in other areas of the pitch, as his natural versatility enables him to play on the wings and even as a right back. Due to his incredible athleticism, he’ll just keep going and going throughout the match, and if used as a substitute, will instantly change the pace and flow of the match.
How Far Can They Get
It is highly likely that England will emerge from Group C, although they shouldn’t be overconfident about any of their matches. Should they emerge at the top of the group, they will likely face Serbia. Considering that I, like England, seem to see bad luck and superstitions every way I turn, I refuse to predict how far they will make it in the World Cup. But I will say that many are predicting that England will go out in the quarter-finals.
|June 12||United States||Rustenberg|
|June 18||Algeria||Cape Town|
|June 23||Slovenia||Port Elizabeth|
|Green, Robert||30||9||0||West Ham United (England)|
|Hart, Joe||23||1||0||Manchester City (England)|
|James, David||39||49||0||Portsmouth (England)|
|Baines, Leighton||25||1||0||Everton (England)|
|Carragher, Jamie||32||34||0||Liverpool (England)|
|Cole, Ashley||29||77||0||Chelsea (England)|
|Dawson, Michael||26||0||0||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Ferdinand, Rio||21||76||3||Manchester United (England)|
|Johnson, Glen||25||20||0||Liverpool (England)|
|King, Ledley||29||19||1||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Terry, John||29||59||6||Chelsea (England)|
|Upson, Matthew||31||19||1||West Ham United (England)|
|Warnock, Stephen||28||1||0||Aston Villa (England)|
|Barry, Gareth||29||36||2||Manchester City (England)|
|Carrick, Michael||28||21||0||Manchester United (England)|
|Cole, Joe||28||53||10||Chelsea (England)|
|Gerrard, Steven||30||78||16||Liverpool (England)|
|Huddlestone, Tom||23||1||0||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Johnson, Adam||22||0||0||Manchester City (England)|
|Lampard, Frank||31||77||20||Chelsea (England)|
|Lennon, Aaron||23||15||0||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Milner, James||24||7||0||Aston Villa (England)|
|Parker, Scott||29||3||0||West Ham United (England)|
|Walcott, Theo||21||9||3||Arsenal (England)|
|Wright-Phillips, Shaun||28||30||6||Manchester City (England)|
|Bent, Darren||26||5||0||Sunderland (England)|
|Crouch, Peter||29||37||30||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Defoe, Jermain||27||39||11||Tottenham Hotspur (England)|
|Heskey, Emile||32||57||7||Aston Villa (England)|
|Rooney, Wayne||24||58||25||Manchester United (England)|
* - age as of June 11
Kirsten Schelwitz's love of Aston Villa had no baring on the Villans' strong representation in the Three Lions' team, but you can read more of her midlands missives at 7500 to Holte.