30-man provisional England World Cup squad announced

Fabio Capello has announced his provisional 30-man England training squad and has thrown in some minor surprises. Key talking points are the inclusion of Gareth Barry despite injury, call ups for Michael Dawson, Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone, and the expected naming of Jamie Caragher, Ledley King and Adam Johnson.

The full 30-man squad is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney.

Key omissions here look to be the heavily tipped Owen Hargreaves, along with Carlton Cole and Bobby Zamora, whose exclusion is reportedly as a result of requiring surgery on his achilles injury over the summer. Meanwhile, Ashley Young and Phil Jagielka can also consider themselves unlucky not to have made it into the provisional squad. 

What do you think? Time to get some free bets on? Let us know.

Who would be in your England training squad?

Fabio Capello is set to announce his 30-man England World Cup training squad later on this afternoon, and he has some tough decisions to make. Injuries and loss of form have both played their part as Capello aims to put together a squad he will have to whittle down to 23 players on 1st June. So who should be in the final reckoning?

If the papers are to be believed, Gareth Barry will be the major casualty following his one month lay-off: a recovery date too close to the start of the tournament for Capello. Barry has been a key part of England’s midfield under the stewardship of the Italian, but his ruthless nature means he is unlikely to risk taking a player with questionable fitness.

Which might raise some eyebrows about his mooted replacement, Owen Hargreaves. The United midfielder’s Premier League appearances this season runs to just one subsitute appearance of one minute, but Capello clearly feels he is worth looking at as part of the training squad, especially given his ability to play at full back.

This is something that also appears to have counted in the favour of Jamie Carragher, who looks to be handed another opportunity in England colours following a spell in the international wilderness. Whilst his form for Liverpool this season has been patchy, at least he has been playing consistently which is more than can be said for the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Joleon Lescott.

It is open to debate as to whether the latter of these two will make the squad, as is also the case with Wes Brown who is recovering from a metatarsal injury. Could this open the door for the likes of Gary Cahill, Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka? Either way, Ledley King appears to have made the cut for the final 30 at least with some commanding performances in recent weeks.

Capello has no shortage of options for width, and Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will all be hoping for the opportunity to prove they are the answer on the left. The battle for a spot on the right is equally as close. Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Theo Walcott will probably all make the training squad, but one of the three is destined not to make the final cut.

Up front, it now seems to be well recognised that barring injuries, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe will be the strikers on the plane to South Africa. However, Capello has one last chance to look at the competition and Carlton Cole, Darren Bent and Bobby Zamora will all be hoping for the opportunity.

So all things considered, here is The Football Blog’s guess as to who will make Capello’s 30-man traning squad:

David James
Robert Green
Joe Hart
Paul Robinson

Glen Johnson
Jamie Carragher
John Terry
Rio Ferdinand
Matthew Upson
Ledley King
Phil Jagielka
Ashley Cole
Leighton Baines
Stephen Warnock

Aaron Lennon
Theo Walcott
Shaun-Wright Phillips
Frank Lampard
Steven Gerrard
Owen Hargreaves
Michael Carrick
Joe Cole
James Milner
Adam Johnson

Wayne Rooney
Peter Crouch
Jermain Defoe
Emile Heskey
Carlton Cole
Bobby Zamora

Which other outside bets would you give a chance to impress in the training squad? How much do you think performances in the friendlies against Mexico and Japan will matter? Do you think Capello has his final 23 in mind? As ever, let us know your thoughts.

World Cup Preview – Group A: Home to the Hosts

By William Geldart

With World Cup 2010 only a few weeks away, kicking off on Friday June 11, The Football Blog is counting down to the global game’s showpiece event. During the build-up, we’ll be analysing each group, with in-depth previews of every side and who the  key players are likely to be. With 32 teams participating, these pages will also be the definitive guide to the teams, managers, players and stories that may have fallen under the radar.

HOST NATION HOPING TO PUT OFF-FIELD PROBLEMS BEHIND THEM

We begin with a preview of Group A, home to the hosts, South Africa. They’ll be competing alongside France, Mexico and Uruguay. There are genuine fears that South Africa could gain the ignominy of being classed ‘worst host nation in history’ such is the weakness of their squad and the perceived strength of their opponents.

So far in World Cup history, no team hosting the tournament have been eliminated at the first hurdle.

Since winning the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, South Africa have struggled to assert themselves as the predominant force on the continent.

Legendary Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira has led four teams to World Cup finals however it would surely rank as one of his greatest international achievements should his team reach the second round.

Much could depend on the performances of South Africa’s English based players. Star man, midfielder Stephen Pienaar, is enjoying a fine season for Everton. Portsmouth defender Aaron Mokoena will be tasked with spearheading the rearguard.

West Ham’s Benni McCarthy is an uncertain starter as he has struggled for form and fitness, despite his status as the country’s record goalscorer. He’ll be buoyed though by his return from international exile and could still pose a threat.

One of the few other players to ply his trade outside of South Africa, Macaabi Haifa’s marauding left-back Tsepo Masilela will be one to watch. Likewise, Orlando Pirates midfielder Teko Modise is blessed with creativity and skill and could trouble opposition defences.

PLAYERS LOOK TO IMPROVE THE MOOD AS THEY MAKE FINAL
PREPARATIONS

No doubt Parreira and his players will be looking to cast aside the off-field problems that have plagued South Africa’s preparations. These include the sacking of fellow Brazilian Joel Santana following a run of eight defeats in nine games and the re-instatement of Parreira as manager.

The local media haven’t been too impressed with the chaos surrounding their team’s build-up. Following the uninspiring 0-0 draw against fellow qualifiers North Korea, The Times of South Africa journalist, Kgomotso Mokoena gave an unforgiving assessment.

“Watching his charges running around like toddlers against North Korea would have left Carlos Alberto Parreira wondering just what he got himself into when he accepted the job to coach South Africa at the World Cup” he said.

THREE MORE GAMES PLANNED AS TOURNAMENT APPROACHES

Bafana Bafana are due to play Bulgaria and Colombia before the tournament kicks off and their last warm-up will be a stern test against a Denmark side that topped their qualifying group.

South Africa can take heart from their performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 where they narrowly lost out in the semi-finals to an 88th minute winner against Brazil. Recent wins against Jamaica
and Zimbabwe, achieved without their foreign based players, should also act as a source of hope, despite the relatively poor quality of the opposition.

Their status as the ultimate World Cup underdog may count in their favour and anything they might gain from the opening game against Mexico will offer them hope. They might be currently ranked 90th in the world however they do have a team containing a set of enigmatic talents who could spark into life.

FRANCE ARE GROUP A FAVOURITES

France, winners in 1998, may be considered favourites to win the group on  paper however team relations under eccentric manager Raymond Domenech are often strained. Having narrowly qualified for the finals, following a controversial play-off win against the Republic of Ireland that featured Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, the French public have turned on their manager and team.

In typical Gallic fashion, the aftermath of the unseemly play-off victory brought about a wave of philosophising with national figures espousing their views. Roselyne Bachelot, the Health and Sports Minister voiced the nation’s concerns when she said, “I really want to tell him, ‘Raymond, you must rally yourself and your players because we, the French, are most worried and upset’.”

FRENCH CREATIVE FORCES COULD BE KEY

Despite their unimpressive route to the finals, France still
possess a squad that will be the envy of most other managers at the tournament. Captain Thierry Henry is a surviving member of the old guard that led Les Bleus to World Cup triumph twelve years ago and he could be ably assisted by Chelsea frontman, Nicolas Anelka.

Indeed, the French are not short of attacking options. Like Henry, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema may not have enjoyed a prolific season in Spain however he’ll have an opportunity to remind the world of his pedigree.

Lyon forward Sidney Govou will also be eager to put aside his own personal heartache of defeat in the Champions League semi-finals to help his side to glory.

In midfield, Bayern Munich’s creative tour de force Franck Ribery has been vocal in his desire to move to fresh pastures and the World Cup is the ultimate shopping window. Chelsea’s Florent Malouda has enjoyed a resurgence in form this season and he has the pace and direct style to frighten any opposition defence.

Arsenal’s Samir Nasri will also join Ribery and Malouda in providing the creative spark with Lyon’s highly-rated Jeremy Toulalan and the Diarras, Lassana and Alou shielding the defence.

Roma’s Phillipe Mexes and Manchester United’s Patrice Evra will both be hoping to go to South Africa having won championship medals in their respective domestic leagues. They look likely to be part of a mobile back-line that could also include Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna.

Their last line of defence, talented Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has already turned down offers from Tottenham and AC Milan in the past and the spotlight will again fall on the youngster.

BEATEN BY THE TOURNAMENT WINNERS?

France’s only game since their play-off victory was a 2-0 friendly defeat to much-fancied Spain in Paris. The comfortable nature of the win for the Spaniards has raised questions over the ability of France to defeat the world’s best should they reach the latter stages of the tournament. Thierry Henry was jeered by the home crowd, further highlighting the fractious relationship between the fans and their national side.

Before the World Cup kicks off, France will face Costa Rica and Tunisia in an attempt to acclimatise to the respective styles of Mexico and South Africa. Their final warm-up game will be against a Chinese side who also didn’t qualify for the finals.

If France are to achieve similar success to their appearance in 2006 where they were beaten finalists, the team will have to gel and perform well in the group stage to win over their detractors. If they fail to make an impression, they run the risk of repeating their feat at the 2002 World Cup where they finished bottom of their group with only a single point With divisive manager Domenech at the helm, maintaining team spirit within the playing squad will be of vital importance.

PERENNIAL QUALIFIERS MEXICO HOPE TO PROGRESS

The early portion of Mexico’s qualifying campaign was notable for a 7-0 thrashing of CONCACAF minnows Belize. This routine victory was a high point as under the guidance of Sven Goran-Eriksson, they began to falter.

Defeats to Jamaica and arch-rivals the United States, coupled with two defeats to Honduras were the final straw for Mexican Football Federation president Justino Compean.

“We could not take risks with qualification for the World Cup, and we could not rely solely on results at the Estadio Azteca (their home stadium),” he said.

Respected coach Javier Aguirre took the reins for the second time having guided Mexico to the Copa America final in 2001 and to the last 16 of the World Cup in 2002. Results drastically improved, with a five game
winning streak, taking revenge on the United States in the process and securing their passage to South Africa.

Indeed, Mexico, two times hosts themselves, have reached the last 16 in every tournament since USA ’94.

EXPERIENCED SQUAD SHOULD SEE OFF CHALLENGERS

The experience within the Mexican squad should see them negotiate the group stage to reach the last 16 for the fifth consecutive time. Striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco and midfielder Gerardo Torrado have both been capped more than 100 times. They also boast the imperious Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez as one of their talents to be reckoned with.

Their training camp has already begun with a 17-man preliminary squad already named from the domestic contingent with European players such as PSV Eindhoven defender Carlos Salcido set to join up imminently. Mexico have lined up a series of hand-picked  friendlies to be played in the USA against Ecuador, Senegal and Angola. They will then travel to Europe for their final warm-up games, including a trip to Wembley to play England on May 24.

Mexico have the joint honour of kicking off the tournament on June 11 when they face hosts South Africa in what is guaranteed to be a fervent atmosphere. There will be no charity shown for the Bafana-Bafana though
as El Tricolor will look to make a positive start.

They then face a difficult test against an erratic France side and they will want to be in a healthy position to qualify from the group by the time they meet Uruguay, who could prove to be rivals for second place.

URUGUAY WILL HOPE TO RELIVE PAST GLORIES AND SNEAK INTO LAST 16

Uruguay, the first hosts and winners of the World Cup, will look to relive past glories and achieve the respectability afforded to their winning sides of 1930 and 1950. Their recent record has been poor, having failed to advance to the second round since 1990.

They were the last team to qualify for the finals, having beaten off the challenge of Costa Rica to win a two-legged play-off 2-1 on aggregate. Like Mexico, they’ll be led by a returning manager, Oscar Washington Tabarez. He has managed the likes of AC Milan and Boca Juniors and was in charge the last time Uruguay made it to the last 16 at Italia ’90.

The veteran coach has already begun plotting his side’s path to the latter stages, highlighting the game against hosts South Africa as crucial to his nation’s hopes. Uruguay will open their campaign against France before facing South Africa in Pretoria five days later.  Tabarez, in an interview published on Monday, told the daily Ultimas Noticias, “But the decisive match is the second. Even winning the first match, the second is the match of confirmation or the return. We have to focus our minds and prepare well to try and play well in that match.”

TABAREZ WILL HOPE TO FURTHER NUTURE YOUNG TALENT

The manager will name his preliminary 30-man squad early next week. The Uruguayans have a few stalwarts, namely the 33 year-old scoring sensation Sebastien Abreu, however as a squad they are a work in progress that are beginning to knit together.

The youthful pair of Nicolas Lodeiro and Luis Suarez, both currently at Dutch giants Ajax, will be looking to impress on the world stage. Midfielder Lodeiro was instrumental in former team Nacional’s surge to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, in the 2008/2009 season.

Lodeiro is feted for his excellent close control and dribbling ability besides his eye for goal. Suarez, meanwhile, is already an influential figure for club and country, having been handed the Ajax captaincy by manager Martin Jol. He has an impressive strike-rate of 10 goals in 29 appearances for the national side and will look to form a lethal partnership with Atletico Madrid hitman Diego Forlan at the finals.

Suarez also scored in Uruguay’s latest game, a 3-1 friendly win against Switzerland and will hope to feature in their next contest against Israel on May 26.

Like manager Tabarez has already stated, much will depend on how Uruguay fare against South Africa. They could prove to be the dark horse of Group A if they can beat the Africans and topple Latin-American counterparts, Mexico. Anything earned against France would also be seen as a massive boost.

GROUP A WIDE OPEN AS FINALS APPROACH

Group A could see various permutations arising should results swing in favour of differing teams. France may appear to be favourites however they’re already under pressure and any negative start to the tournament will intensify the heat on their unpopular manager and players.

Some commentators, including CNN correspondent James Montague have suggested that “It is an unwritten rule of all World Cups: if the host nation fails on the pitch, interest in the competition dies off the pitch.”

The likelihood is that, no matter what the performances of their national side are like, soccer mad South Africans will lap up every minute of playing time this summer. Should their side manage to pull off any shocks, then even better. It will take a mammoth effort for them to qualify however a positive opening result against Mexico could see the momentum build and carry them through.

Mexico and Uruguay may see themselves as the natural contenders for the second spot in the group and much may depend on how well they do against South Africa. Both have the potential to take a point or more from an unpredictable French side however it could well come down to the final group game on June 22, when the pair will meet in Rustenburg.

Football World Cup Predictions

World Cup

The Football World Cup in South Africa is now only a couple of months away, the World Cup Fixtures have been pored over at length, and people are starting to ponder which team will lift the trophy.

After their Euro 2008 triumph, Spain have been installed as the tournament favourites, ahead of Brazil, England, Argentina and Italy.

Barcelona’s form in La Liga and the Champions League has suggested that this favourites’ tag is well-deserved, and with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol in their ranks, they’ll be a tough team to beat. Add Cesc Fabregas to that list, and Vicente del Bosque has a formidable line-up to take on the world.

But Fabregas’ injury may have a significant impact on their campaign. Although he is expected to be fit, as England supporters, we know how much of a concern it is to select a player for the World Cup short of match practice and fitness over 90 minutes – Fabregas may struggle to hit top gear on the world’s biggest stage after missing Arsenal’s Premier league run-in.

Brazil are always one of the teams to beat at the World Cup, and will feature the usual array of big players with only one name, such as Lucio, Robinho and Kaka. They have a tough group and will need to overcome Portugal in order to emerge as group winners, but only a brave man would write them off.

Likewise Argentina, where the hopes of a nation will be pinned on Lionel Messi of Barcelona, and we haven’t even mentioned Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Holland, who always challenge for the title. England’s prospects will no doubt be well-documented in the weeks to come, and they are real contenders if Wayne Rooney stays fit and Fabio Capello prevents the team from self-destructing. There will be many nervous fans around the UK watching the world cup from social venues such as holiday camps and bars. These places provide the best atmosphere to enjoy the World Cup and hopefully England's success.

It’s time to nail your colours to the mast and give us your prediction for the tournament winner. I’m tentatively going for Argentina, with Messi claiming the Golden Boot.

By James Hutchison

Who would be in your England World Cup squad?

England’s 3-1 defeat of Egypt last night will have given Fabio Capello plenty of food for thought as he tries to finalise his 23-man World Cup squad. Whilst it was not the most eloquent performance of the Italian’s tenure, particularly in the first half, some players probably did enough to book their place on the plane, whilst some failed to seize their opportunity to impress.

The performance also showed that Capello is not afraid to spring the odd surprise. Robert Green played the entire match when most expected Joe Hart to be tested. Leighton Baines played the full 90 minutes when many had thought Capello would also give Stephen Warnock a chance to press his claims. Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe also got starting berths against the odds (althought neither fully capitalised on the opportunity).

Back in September following confirmation of England’s qualification, we delivered our verdict on who should be on the plane to South Africa. Six months, a few injuries and a well publicised affair later, things have changed a bit. Based on the evidence we saw last night, as well as recent league form, here is the squad we would pick (NOT necessarily the one we think he will pick):

Goalkeepers
Robert Green
Joe Hart
Paul Robinson

Defenders
Rio Ferdinand (captain)
John Terry
Matthew Upson
Wes Brown
Glen Johnson
Ashley Cole
Leighton Baines

Midfielders
Frank Lampard
Steven Gerrard
Gareth Barry
Aaron Lennon
Shaun Wright-Phillips
James Milner
Michael Carrick
Stewart Downing

Forwards
Wayne Rooney
Peter Crouch
Jermain Defoe
Emile Heskey
Carlton Cole

Some of these predictions are probably no more than wishful thinking. For example, David James is likely to get the nod ahead of Paul Robinson, despite their current club form. Capello is also likely to go with eight defenders at the expense of an extra attacker, with Carlton Cole the man to make way.

There is also the assumption that Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon will be fit in time to play. Furthermore, it would be a shock if David Beckham did not make the cut. Out of those midfielders we’ve picked, Stewart Downing would probably consider himself lucky to be chosen ahead of the former England captain, despite England’s need for width on the left.

The World Cup is now less than 100 days away and everybody has an opinion on who should make the England squad. Let us know your thoughts on who you would take and why.

2010 Football World Cup Fixtures

Following the World Cup draw last Friday, here is the full list of fixtures in chronological order – there are plenty of matches to look forward to next summer.

Football World Cup Fixtures

Friday, 11 June 2010
South Africa v Mexico, Group A, 15:00
Uruguay v France, Group A, 19:30

Saturday, 12 June 2010
South Korea v Greece, Group B, 12:30
Argentina v Nigeria, Group B, 15:00
England v USA, Group C, 19:30

Sunday, 13 June 2010
Algeria v Slovenia, Group C, 12:30
Serbia v Ghana, Group D, 15:00
Germany v Australia, Group D, 19:30

Monday, 14 June 2010
Netherlands v Denmark, Group E, 12:30
Japan v Cameroon, Group E, 15:00
Italy v Paraguay, Group F, 19:30

Tuesday, 15 June 2010
New Zealand v Slovakia, Group F, 12:30
Ivory Coast v Portugal, Group G, 15:00
Brazil v North Korea, Group G, 19:30

Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Honduras v Chile, Group H, 12:30
Spain v Switzerland, Group H, 15:00
South Africa v Uruguay, Group A, 19:30

Thursday, 17 June 2010
Argentina v South Korea, Group B, 12:30
Greece v Nigeria, Group B, 15:00
France v Mexico, Group A, 19:30

Friday, 18 June 2010
Germany v Serbia, Group D, 12:30
Slovenia v USA, Group C, 15:00
England v Algeria, Group C, 19:30

Saturday, 19 June 2010
Netherlands v Japan, Group E, 12:30
Ghana v Australia, Group D, 15:00
Cameroon v Denmark, Group E, 19:30

Sunday, 20 June 2010
Slovakia v Paraguay, Group F, 12:30
Italy v New Zealand, Group F, 15:00
Brazil v Ivory Coast, Group G, 19:30

Monday, 21 June 2010
Portugal v North Korea, Group G, 12:30
Chile v Switzerland, Group H, 15:00
Spain v Honduras, Group H, 19:30

Tuesday, 22 June 2010
France v South Africa, Group A, 15:00
Mexico v Uruguay, Group A, 15:00
Greece v Argentina, Group B, 19:30
Nigeria v South Korea, Group B, 19:30

Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Slovenia v England, Group C, 15:00
USA v Algeria, Group C, 15:00
Australia v Serbia, Group D, 19:30
Ghana v Germany, Group D, 19:30

Thursday, 24 June 2010
Paraguay v New Zealand, Group F, 15:00
Slovakia v Italy, Group F, 15:00
Cameroon v Netherlands, Group E, 19:30
Denmark v Japan, Group E, 19:30

Friday, 25 June 2010
North Korea v Ivory Coast, Group G, 15:00
Portugal v Brazil, Group G, 15:00
Chile v Spain, Group H, 19:30
Switzerland v Honduras, Group H, 19:30

Saturday, 26 June 2010
Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, 15:00
Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, 19:30

Sunday, 27 June 2010
Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, 15:00
Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A, 19:30

Monday, 28 June 2010
Winner Group E v Runner-up Group F, 15:00
Winner Group G v Runner-up Group H, 19:30

Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Winner Group F v Runner-up Group E, 15:00
Winner Group H v Runner-up Group G, 19:30

Friday, 2 July 2010
Winner Group E/R-Up Gp F v Winner Group G/R-Up Group H, QF, 15:00
Winner Group A/R-Up Gp B v Winner Group C/R-Up Group D, QF, 19:30

Saturday, 3 July 2010
Winner Group B/R-Up Group A v Winner Group D/R-Up Group C, QF, 15:00
Winner Group F/R-Up Group E v Winner Group H/R-Up Group G, QF, 19:30

Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Winner Q/F 1 v Winner Q/F 3, SF, 19:30

Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Winner Q/F 2 v Winner Q/F 4, SF, 19:30

Saturday, 10 July 2010
Loser SF1 v Loser SF2, 19:30

Sunday, 11 July 2010
Winners SF1 v Winners SF2, F, 19:30

2010 World Cup Draw

The draw for the 2010 World Cup has just been made, and here it is in full.

England were lucky enough to be seeded amongst the top eight teams, which has been a favourite topic of debate in itself, and the draw appears to be favourable.

Group A
South Africa
Mexico
Uruguay
France

Group B
Argentina
Nigeria
Korean Republic
Greece

Group C
England
USA
Algeria
Slovenia

Group D
Germany
Australia
Serbia
Ghana

Group E
Netherlands
Denmark
Japan
Cameroon

Group F
Italy
Paraguay
New Zealand
Slovakia

Group G
Brazil
North Korea
Ivory Coast
Portugal

Group H
Spain
Switzerland
Honduras
Chile

Can an African team really win the World Cup?

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Former AC Milan legend George Weah seems to think so. His remarks come after Ghana won the first ever Under 20’s World Cup last month – and I agree with him – but not this time around. Maybe in 2018…

Some will say that this is an African country’s best chance, only Brazil have won the World Cup outside their own continent.

Advantage of population size is certainly in Africa’s favour – an article by the UN has just revealed that over a billion people live on the continent – that’s 200 million more than Europe. And there is certainly no lack of passion for football – it is played all over the continent. But obviously, Africa is riddled with poverty, war and countless other problems and its sports facilities don’t even bear recognition to the ones here in Europe. Most kids have never even played on grass.

That is mainly why, when an African country produces a world-class footballer, they head straight for Europe. There have been many brilliant African players; Drogba, Eto’o, Roger Milla,  Jay-Jay Okocha, Adiba Pele and of course Weah himself to name but a few – all of them are playing or have played, for European teams. Who can blame them? Europe hosts the best club football in the world.

However, with a few exceptions, most of these players who make it big on the world stage stay in Europe and never go back to Africa to help the progression of the sport, or offer advice to up-and-coming talent. Perhaps that is why there has been a gulf in the difference of class between African teams and other top national sides.

But I think that is all about to change. With South Africa playing host to the World Cup and Angola staging the Africa Cup of Nations, there will be millions of young children who’ll benefit from getting the opportunity to use world class facilities.

But the huge appeal will be getting to watch the World Cup in their own back-yard. Africa will see a massive influx of children being drawn to play the sport and adults wanting to get involved in the football communities that start to flourish. Many other doors could open up for the development of African football if the World Cup is a resounding success.

I agree with George Weah that the current African teams are dangerous and could go far in the competition this June. Africa has produced some of the best athletes in the world. They have pace, agility and stamina – all key attributes for a footballer. Teams like Ghana and Ivory Coast have these qualities in abundance. But their ability to keep level headed and close out a game is what will cost them at this World Cup.

However, I would hope that the aftermath of a really good and enjoyable World Cup in South Africa could see some of those African legends return to the continent and coach such attributes. After all, it’s at grassroots level where sport is won or lost.

Africa’s problems will not disappear this June, but the positives that this World Cup will bring to the development of African football could be endless.

Harry Hesp

England qualify – but who will be getting on the plane to South Africa?

big-screen-at-Wembley-001

Following England’s 5-1 hammering of Croatia last night, the dream of playing in a World Cup will become a reality for twenty-three men of Fabio Capello’s choosing come June. Every player in the frame will be looking to impress over the next nine months, but who will be boarding the plane as part of the England squad?

Let us not forget, before the World Cup comes around there is a long and competitive domestic season to be played in which fluctuating form and injuries will play their part in deciding who goes to South Africa. However, if the tournament was tomorrow, here is The Football Blog’s verdict on who should be going based on current form:

Goalkeepers
David James
Robert Green
Ben Foster

Defenders
John Terry (captain)
Rio Ferdinand
Matthew Upson
Wes Brown
Glen Johnson
Ashley Cole
Wayne Bridge

Midfielders
Frank Lampard
Steven Gerrard
Gareth Barry
Aaron Lennon
Shaun Wright-Phillips
James Milner
Ashley Young
Michael Carrick

Forwards
Wayne Rooney
Peter Crouch
Jermain Defoe
Emile Heskey
Darren Bent

Whilst not totally radical, their are some absentees which may raise a few eyebrows. In picking only seven defenders on the basis that Wes Brown can cover both centre-back and right-back positions, there is no place for Joleon Lescott. Matthew Upson is preferred as central defensive cover as he starts to look increasingly assured at international level.

In midfield, David Beckham and Theo Walcott don’t make the cut. Whilst a strong season from Walcott would probably see him oust Shaun Wright-Phillips, his current form isn’t good enough to merit a position in the squad. Beckham has it all to prove when/if he returns to AC Milan. He has made some crucial contributions to the England cause in the past, but he can not trade on past glories and needs to prove he can still be influential at this level.

Up front, in a choice of five allowed for by only taking seven defenders, Carlton Cole makes way for Darren Bent. If Capello takes both Crouch and Heskey, the need for another large centre forward is eliminated. Bent was extremely unlucky to miss out on the last World Cup and a good season with Sunderland should see him make it this time round.

Capello has the benefit of using the remaining qualifying games, on top of the pre-arranged friendlies, as trial games to try out those players on the fringe. There is a lot to think about in getting the balance of the squad right, and the Italian’s meticulous nature means that he is likely to leave no stone unturned. For many players, there is a lot more riding on this season than usual.

Do you agree with our squad? As is stand, who would you take and who would you leave at home? As ever, let us know your thoughts.