Fernando Torres Out For Six Weeks

Difficult not to feel some sympathy with Spain, given our record for pre-tournament injuries, especially when the player involved could have been one of the stars of the World Cup…but Fernando Torres is set to miss six weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn cartilage in his right knee.

Weirdly, Torres was one of the first Panini stickers I got with my free album today – so Javier Mascherano, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Steven Pienaar and Rio Ferdinand might be also be cursed.

Incidentally, having watched almost the entire Spurs v Chelsea game last night (including Drogba’s bizarre ‘groin injury’ performance after half time) I’m now convinced that Michael Dawson of Spurs needs to be in the England squad. The problem for Dawson is that we only have two friendlies left…against Mexico at Wembley on Monday May 24th and versus Japan at the UPC Arena (in Graz, Austria) on Sunday May 30th.

England 3-1 Egypt (FT)

Before the game started the lineup looked a bit second string to me. Leighton Baines made his England debut, but Egypt fielded the same side that won the African Cup of Nations in January; confusingly both sides were wearing their change colours, although the words ‘cynical marketing ploy’ spring to mind as England’s new ‘away’ kit was only launched yesterday and tonight’s game was presumably supposed to inspire us all to go out and buy it at the first opportunity.

John Terry was booed during the introductions, when he first touched the ball (less than ten seconds into the game) and throughout the first half; it was comparatively mild and seemed to die out in the second half.

The game started brightly and it was soon obvious that Egypt were a good test for England; the visitors looked comfortable with the ball, knocked it around nicely and were not really under stress defensively despite some early England pressure, but yet again English passes seemed to be going astray.

Anyone expecting a 6-0 win would have been disappointed; when Egypt took the lead after 23 minutes with a goal from Mohammed Zidan, it could hardly be described as ‘against the run of play’ although Matt Upson’s slip made Zidan’s job a lot easier. It was tough to find a word that adequately summed up England’s defence at that point but ponderous and unconcerned spring to mind. If the defence is not considerably tighter then anything beyond the second round this summer is going to be a bonus; anyone who saw Brazil’s second goal against Ireland on Tuesday night will appreciate that. On the other hand, we were without the services of a few of our first choice defenders tonight.

Zidan’s goal ought to have woken England up: the slow motion close ups of Wayne Rooney showed exactly how frustrated the Manchester United striker was. To their credit, the Egyptians were showing other teams how to defend against England: pack the midfield and cut off service to Rooney, who really is the only genuine world class player we have.

Half time arrived with England losing 0-1 and it felt a little like some of the World Cup tournaments of the past: losing to a decent team that may have been underestimated before the game, no real sign of any breakthrough and players beginning to become frustrated.

Yet what followed was a validation of why Fabio Capello is paid so much money by the FA. He made four second half substitutions, each of which contributed to the final result. Carrick and Crouch replaced Defoe and Lampard at half time and made an instant impact: Carrick started the move that resulted in Crouch’s equaliser. Then Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced Theo Walcott and James Milner came on for Steven Gerrard who – it has to be said – did not do a great deal other than to pass the captain’s armband to Wayne Rooney when he was substituted.

Twenty minutes after coming on, Wright-Phillips scored and England had taken the lead. Milner’s shot was parried into Wright-Phillips’ path by Essam El Hadari, who flapped at the Manchester City winger’s snap shot. Crouch made it 3-1 five minutes later; the Spurs striker was awarded the Man  Of The Match award despite having played for exactly half of it.

So summing up,  from our point of view it wasa game of two halves: the first half was as lacklustre and the second half was encouraging. Gerrard and Lampard will no doubt probably start against the USA in June, but if they’re going to be as anonymous as they were this evening they might find themselves on the bench at half time; Defoe – and particularly Walcott – are in danger of not going to South Africa at all and that despite some of the dark mutterings on Radio 5 before the game, Robert Green should be our number one goalkeeper.

A few random observations before it’s time for bed:

* Does anyone else find it odd that a Danish brewer is the official beer of English football?

* Clive Tyldesley’s observation that ‘Zidan’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Zidane’ is about as fatuous as saying that ‘Pillao’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Pullao’  in different Indian restaurants or ‘Sechwan’ is not spelled the same way as ‘Szechuan’ in different Chinese ones.

* Beating Egypt does not make England champions of Africa, although it’s a nice thought.

* Latin American and Meditteranean referees will almost always blow for foot up regardless of the circumstances and also tend to do so if a sliding tackle comes in from the side. Looking confused or bewildered will not stop them.

* Michael Carrick is arguably a better all round midfield player than Frank Lampard at the moment.

* Wayne Rooney should be England captain.

Egypt Preview

OK, so it’s not Tuesday but we’re an hour or so away from kick off so there’s actually still time to bring you some interesting facts and figures about tonight’s opponents.

I’m not sure if Egyptwere chosen to provide typical North African opposition ahead of our game with Algeria or not, but if the pasting our visitors gave the Algerians in the recent African Cup of Nations semi finals is anything to go by then we probably shouldn’t be too worried. We’re not playing Algeria though, we’re playing the country that has won three consecutive African Cup of Nations tournament and arguably ought to have qualified for South Africa.

The appropriately nicknamed Pharoahs (although their Wikipedia entry says something else!) are ranked 17th in the world by FIFA, a position that puts them ahead of  Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Denmark amongst others; they actually rated in the top ten last month, which is the highest point they have ever reached. They have reached the finals of the World Cup twice: in 1934 they travelled to all the way to France and lost their only game 2-4 to Hungary in the first round. In 1990 they were drawn in the same first round group as us and we won our last meeting with them 1-0 with a rare Mark Wright goal.

Somewhat similar to the Mexicans and ourselves, you don’t normally find that many Egyptians playing abroad and tonight’s Egyptian squad seems to confirms this. Only five players play for clubs outside Egypt’s Premier League: strikers Amr Zaki of Hull City and Mohamed Zidan of Borussia Dortmund are the best known of that group. The rest of the team is dominated by players from the two big Cairo teams – six from current league leaders Al Ahly and five from Zamalek. The most capped player in the side is captain Ahmed Hassanwith 173 appearances (he’s been in the national side more or less continuously since 1994) who is also current joint top leading scorer in the squad with Emad Moteab, who has been linked with a number of English clubs in the past and actually was a Bristol City player for about five minutes, but that’s another story for another day.

Due to…ummm…’domestic commitments’ (make of that what you will) there will be no live blog tonight, but there will be some kind of match report posted later. And remember – no booing John Terry because Wayne Rooney said so.

Squad For Egypt Friendly Announced

First the squad, then the opinion:

David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham), Joe Hart (Birmingham City, on loan from Manchester City)

Wes Brown (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Matt Upson (West Ham), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Ryan Shawcross (Stoke), Leighton Baines (Everton), Steven Warnock (Aston Villa)

James Milner (Aston Villa), David Beckham (AC Milan), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (probable captain, Liverpool), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (Aston Villa)

Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Jermain Defoe (Spurs), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Peter Crouch (Spurs), Carlton Cole (West Ham)

We’re almost 100 days until the World Cup kicks off and Wayne Bridge’s decision to rule himself out of further contention for the England team plus injuries to Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand are casuing a major defensive headache. Injuries are one thing – and to be honest, it would have been a miracle if we’d gone into the tournament without any – but for an established international like Bridge to have withdrawn as a consequence of John Terry’s off-field behaviour vindicates the decision by Sr. Capello to look for on-field leadership elsewhere.

To his credit, at the end of last week Sr. Capello made it clear that if Bridge was to reconsider his decision, the Manchester City defender would be welcomed back to the squad. I really hope we haven’t heard the end of this because I think we may need Wayne Bridge this summer, especially as all sorts of rumours are flying around about Ashley Cole’s mental state following Cheryl Cole’s decision to end their marriage. If Cole (A)  is neither mentally nor physically fit this summer then he shouldn’t go to South Africa at all.

To cap it all, one of the defensive replacements has a lot of back page coverage this morning. I didn’t see Ryan Shawcross’ tackle on Aaron Ramsey (I was in the kitchen listening to the game while I cooked dinner) but as soon as I heard the commentary I was instantly reminded on a similar injury that occurred about a decade ago at my local club. Shawcross got an instant red card and left the field in tears. A few hours later he got his England call up.

Apart from the casualties listed above, Glen Johnson and Aaron Lennon are also injury concerns at the moment, thankfully Gary Cahill is on the mend after suffering a health scare with a blood clot, but Joe Cole is missing again, simply because he’s not playing regularly for Chelsea. Intriguingly, Theo Walcott returns to the squad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make an appearance at some point on Wednesday; his last chance to impress Capello perhaps.

To put all of this into some kind of perspective, if you think England’s preparations have been hampered by scandal and injuries, Chile have cancelled both of their friendlies that were scheduled for Wednesday after the country was hit by a massive earthquake on Saturday morning – the strongest one to affect the country for 50 years, which was the biggest ever recorded. We also haven’t sacked our manager – Vahid Halilhodzic was dumped by the Ivory Coast on Saturday, fuelling speculation that Guus Hiddink would take over for their World Cup campaign, although I don’t think Bora Milutinovic is busy at the moment.

Finally, a couple of follow up stories: there have been charges in the Salvador Cabanas shooting and it looks as if wounded Togo goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale may be on his way back to France at last.

We’ll have a look at the Egypt squad on Tuesday evening – the game will be live on ITV in the UK everywhere other than Scotland (kick off at 8pm GMT) and although we haven’t decided to run one of our infamous live blogs for this game yet, we’ll let you know on Tuesday.

Squad For Brazil Game Announced, As Are More Injuries…

Here’s the squad for the game on Saturday (ITV, 4:15pm):

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster, Robert Green & Joe Hart

Defenders: Wayne Bridge, Wes Brown, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson, Joeleon Lescott, John Terry, Matt Upson & Steven Warnock

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Shaun-Wright Philips & Ashley Young

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe & Wayne Rooney

Missing: Ashley Cole (fractured leg, will apparently miss a few weeks),  Carlton Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard (who – despite being supposedly injured - started on the bench at Anfield before being used as a sub v Birmingham this evening), Emile Heskey, David James and Aaron Lennon. David Beckham will be missing due to LA Galaxy’s playoff game against the CIA’s team in Texas, Houston Dynamo.

A point worth making here: despite currently being placed second in the Premiership, there are no players from Arsenal.

Dunga announced the Brazil squad last week and contains no domestic players because Serie A (the Brazilian version) is coming to a climax; with four games left, there are only six points between the top six clubs.

The Brazilian squad:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Milan), Doni (Roma)

Defenders: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Fabio Aurelio (Liverpool), Juan (Roma), Maicon (Inter), Michel Bastos (Lyon), Lucio (Inter), Luisao (Benfica) & Naldo (Werder Bremen)

Midfielders: Alex (CSKA Moscow), Julio Baptista (Roma), Elano (Galatasary), Josue (Wolfsburg), Lucas (Liverpool), Kaka (Real Madrid), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos) & Fabio Simplicio (Palermo)

Forwards: Carlos Eduardo (Hoffenheim), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villareal), Robinho (Manchester City) and Clive Tyldesley’s favourite Givanildo Vieira de Souza (aka ‘Hulk’) of FC Porto.

More later in the week, but before anyone gets carried away, our record against Brazil is pretty ropey. Since we first met in 1956, we’ve won three times in 22 games, the last victory was almost 20 years ago when ‘Match Of The Day’ anchorman Gary Lineker scored the only goal of the game and Dunga was a player rather than the manager; we’ve lost three of the last five against them.

Lastly, on a sad note, it looks very much as if Dean Ashton of West Ham United and England will have to retire at the ridiculously young age of 25; he sustained an ankle injury at an England training camp in 2007 which he’s never fully recovered from.