England look to build with Denmark friendly

Guest blogger Thomas Rooney gives his perspective on the forthcoming friendly against Denmark…might be worth remembering that the last time we played the Danes in a friendly in Copenhagen we lost 4-1!

In the middle of a Premier League season isn’t the most popular time to have a friendly. But that is the prospect facing England as they prepare for the away fixture against Denmark on February 9th. And in what shape do we find that national side in?

Well, in an odd position truth be told. Gone is the early optimism of the Fabio Capello reign; If the disheartening World Cup fiasco didn’t dampen the mood all together, the 0-0 draw with Montenegro in the Euro qualifier at Wembley.

More disappointing perhaps was the result, or more pertinently, the performance against France. The game offered a lot of parallels in some respects. Both teams were looking to rebuild their reputation after disastrous World Cup campaigns. Unfortunately that was where the similarity ended as the next generation of French players played around and through a baffled England side. The final score may have been a 2-1 defeat, but you would need to add two or three more goals to the French score to find a more fitting scoreline.

Going into 2011, those placing regular football bets will tell you that Fabio Capello faces a difficult task. Qualification for the European Championships is a must, but if he does manage to qualify easily enough then most observers will wave this away, safe in the knowledge that they have seen it all before and that emerging from Group G isn’t much of a challenge. If he fails to do this, then his planned retirement after the Euro’s may be bought forward somewhat.

But there is some light amongst the gloom. English players have proved themselves as up there with the best, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Jack Wilshere have all performed well this season, and fringe players such as Michael Dawson and Darren Bent are putting their hands up for a starting place. Perhaps most importantly Wayne Rooney looks to finding some semblance of form as he looks to bury his own personal South African nightmare; his performance in tandem with Dimitar Berbatov against Birmingham City a couple of weeks ago was excellent, and Fabio Capello will take heart.

Denmark represents a challenge of sorts and will be a good warm-up ahead of the important qualifier against Wales in March. Football betting patterns will see England emerge as favourites, but the Danes will pose a genuine threat.

Premier League managers could do without the extra strain of an England fixture in the middle of a busy Premier League schedule; any potential knocks to key players would not be welcome in the crucial second half of the season. Capello will look to use his time wisely as he looks forward to a key period in his time as England manager. Lots to lose, nothing to gain. Who would be an England manager?

2010: Annus Mediocris

After the World Cup we had, it’s not too difficult to feel at least a twinge of sympathy with our near neighbours, although on the other hand it’s also quite difficult to suppress any giggling.

In some respects the French campaign in South Africa was so wonderfully dysfunctional that it’s hard to imagine any other team self destructing with such panache; at least Italy nearly made it to the second round although at least they have some previous when it comes to underperfoming in Africa.

The sanctions the French FA imposed on their squad in the aftermath of both the performance on the pitch and the histrionics off it look like a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Tonight’s friendly can be seen from two contradictory angles. On the optimistic side, it’s an opportunity for both sides to field players with minimal international experience who wouldn’t normally make a contribution in the hope that a couple of them will make a breakthrough. From a negative point of view, the game will feature ‘experimental’  (ie under strength) sides and concludes a year that arguably could and should have been more successful for both sides. That’s certainly the way French manager Laurent Blanc seems to see it (some knowledge of French required).

The problem we’ve got – again – is goals. Montenegro’s clean sheet was the first time that we’ve failed to score at home since February 2007, when a goal from Andres Iniesta was enough for a Spanish win at Old Trafford. Fab’s hands have been tied with the usual crop of withdrawals and injuries, which is why the (ahem) ‘troubled but talented’ Andy Carroll of Newcastle will probably start up front; presumably he got the nod before Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd because Cardiff aren’t in the Premiership…yet.

The only other confirmed starters are Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs – when there’s some kind of news about what the team actually is, we’ll have it here.

With just under two weeks to go before the announcement of the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, it’s fair to say that – for whatever reason – our chances of winning the bid are slightly worse than they were at the beginning of the year.

The incident concerning Lord Triesman was regrettable even if there may have been something to it; the perception of the Sunday Times enquiry into vote buying may have damaged the bid even though it seems public perception refuses to blame the journalists, who were right to investigate what was happening.

So the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia will be made by a discredited body that won’t even have enough time to investigate itself before announcing where the next two competitions will be held.

Don’t hold your breath and be prepared for more disappointment. However, if by some miracle we actually win the bid, then mine’s several pints of Bombardier.

Update: starting line up against France:

Foster, Jagielka, Ferdinand, Lescott, Gibbs, Walcott, Henderson, Barry, Milner, Gerrard, Carroll.

Didn’t Ferdinand Lescott-Gibbs discover the Zambezi?

Will Capello Bring in ‘New Blood’ for Friendly with France?

Thanks to guest blogger Richard Smith for his thoughts about next week’s international – with the possible exception of Italy, France were probably the worst of the major European nations taking part in South Africa last summer…

England take on France next week at Wembley in what will be their last international of what has been an almost forgettable year. Almost forgettable in the sense that at least they seem to have picked up from where they left off before their woeful World Cup performances in South Africa.

Although unable to beat Montenegro at Wembley last month, England still look the best team in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, securing three wins from their four matches played thus far. They will go into 2011 in second place in the group, with a potentially feisty encounter against Wales their next group game at the end of March.

With the issue of who will be captain now decided in favour of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and John Terry can both concentrate on what they do best, by returning to their best form and confirming in the process, that they are both vital links in the England set up.

The match against France presents manager, Fabio Capello, the opportunity to include one or two youngsters, most notably perhaps, Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, who has been impressing plaudits since forcing himself into the Arsenal team. Wilshere made his debut of course against Hungary as a late substitute and has been in sparkling form for Arsenal since and could be given a start ahead of Gareth Barry, who has been well out of touch.

In the absence of first choice strikers, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe, Capello might even be persuaded to select Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who looks like he has far more about him than regular England pick, Peter Crouch; Carroll’s off the pitch behaviour might just put Capello off however.
Kevin Davies has continued to impress up front for Bolton, with his boss, Owen Coyle, calling him unplayable at the moment. Capello is a known admirer and gave him his debut as a substitute against Montenegro which strongly suggests that he, like Carroll, might get the nod over Crouch.

Another striker who has been receiving rave reviews all season is Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd, who has scored ten goals from 12 appearances for the ‘Bluebirds’ so far this season. Bothroyd was once upon a time on Arsenal’s books but was released by Arsene Wenger in 2000. He had spells at Coventry, Perugia in Italy, Blackburn, Charlton, Wolves, before finally settling at Cardiff, where he has a huge following. Whether Capello would dip into the The Championship though remains to be seen with David Nugent the last player outside of the Premier League to be capped in his only appearance under Steve McClaren in 2007.

Gary Cahill, team mate of Davies at Bolton could also get another chance, particularly after his fine display against Spurs last weekend. If Ferdinand and Terry are both fit then Cahill might have to content himself with a place on the bench, but he is certainly one for the future.

France who had an even worse time of it than England in South Africa have also picked up since Laurent Blanc took over the reins from Raymond Domenech in August. As is well known several of their players even went on strike in South Africa, unhappy with the way Domenech managed the team, players such as Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Patrick Evra of Manchester United received suspensions for their actions from the French FA.
France however come into the game against England having won their last three games and sitting on top of Euro 2012 qualification Group D with nine points from four games played. In those last three games they did not concede a goal. However, the England odds of 6/5 to win this game suggest that France’s change of form will come to a halt at Wembley; however, at 2/1 about the visitors, you know which of the two team’s odds make most appeal!

Hopefully, Capello will use this friendly against France to offer some new faces a chance to impress and at least finish what has been a disastrous year for the national team on a positive note.

Are You Hungary For More?

Excuse the inevitable pun…the good news is that we’re still pretty formidable at home: nine straight wins, unbeaten since that game against Croatia in November 2007 and playing a country that hasn’t beaten us since the 1962 World Cup and hasn’t beaten us in England since that game in November 1953.

The bad news? This is a game we should win. Just like the game against Algeria during the World Cup, although to be fair to the Algerians the current FIFA rankings have the Desert Foxes thirty places above the current crop of slightly less than magical Magyars, but after this summer’s dismal failure anything might happen.

Having said that, the contrite atmosphere that has permeated the press conferences given by Fabio Capello and Steven Gerrard this week have been encouraging yet slightly depressing. Admitting that there were various problems with both the preparation and execution of the World Cup campaign is refreshing, but the comments that were coming from the England camp before the World Cup contradicted those statements. Attempting to put those things right in one game won’t work and – like most fans – I’ll be extremely wary if the expected romp through the Euro 2012 qualification group materialises. It shouldn’t be forgotten that half of the World Cup semi finalists had to qualify via the playoffs.

Then there are the withdrawals. I’ve already commented on Robinson and Brown and to some extent I sympathise with their points of view, but although it’s encouraging to see that Capello has called up Scott Loach and Frankie Fielding from the Under 21 squad as replacements, he didn’t really have much choice in the matter and I seriously doubt that they’ll get any playing time tomorrow.

Spare a thought for Hungary though. Despite their 1954 squad being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams never to have won the World Cup, they haven’t qualified for a major tournament since 1986, although the under 20s finished third in the 2009 World Cup for that age group. That team was coached by Sandor Egervari, who replaced Erwin Koeman as senior team manager at the end of July. Although there are several well known names amongst the Hungarians – four of the squad play in England and keeper Gabor Kiraly played for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Burnley – the Hungarian league isn’t particularly good and it’s significant that only five of the twenty man squad play for domestic clubs. Kiraly is the most capped player in the current squad and any goals will come from either Zoltan Gera of Fulham or Tamas Priskin, who scored at the weekend for Ipswich Town.

Prediction: England to win and keep a clean sheet. Immediate post-match reaction tomorrow but it won’t be either an instant classic or have the same long term implications this game did, although after this summer’s shambles it could be argued we still haven’t learned the lessons from that foggy Wednesday afternoon in November 1953…

A Win’s A Win…

…even if it wasn’t particularly convincing. A well taken goal from Ledley King, a rubbish handball offside one from Peter Crouch (which we should try again during the knockout latter stages of the tournament) and an absolute beauty from Glen Johnson gave England an ultimately flattering 3-1 win over a Mexican team who had a number of first class chances (23 shots on goal, nine on target to our eight attempts, five on target) throughout the game. If last night’s opponents play that well in the finals, France, New Zealand and Uruguay will have to watch out.

To be brutally honest, there were times when we were outplayed: King’s goal came against the run of play and the Mexican goal just before half time was a result of defending at a set piece that would have embarrassed a team of under elevens.

Having said all that…this is exactly what friendlies are for and not playing particularly well and winning is far, far better than being the best team in the world and losing. I have no doubt that the performance against Japan will better: to put yesterday’s result in perspective, Portugal drew 0-0 with the Cape Verde Islands, which is about the same as England drawing with Gibraltar.

Oh and Argentina beat Canada 5-0. I can’t remember if I’ve written it before, but there’s always one team that scrapes in after a rubbish qualification campaign and then suddenly becomes a major threat. Our evil twins may be that team: they’re fourth favourites to win the whole thing at about 7/1.

BTW, techology hates me. I was happily twittering away last night and my laptop fan decided it didn’t want to play. Twice.

Mexico Preview

England play their last game at Wembley before leaving for the World Cup Finals against a Mexican side that most of us will next see playing the hosts in the opening game of the tournament.

This will be the first time we’ve played ‘El Tri’ since 2001 (a 4-0 win at Pride Park in Derby if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me) and the Mexicans don’t have a good record in England: we’ve won all four games played here and they have yet to score. Despite that, we actually have quite a lot in common with them: until about half way through the qualifying campaign they were managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson and in the last four tournaments they have qualified from their group only to be unable to get past the second round. So…umm… actually quite a lot in common then.

It used to be quite rare for Mexicans to play abroad (Hugo Sanchez is the only name that springs to mind) but that’s changed. The provisional squad named by Javier Aguirre contained ten players who play their club football in Europe: captain Rafael Marquez and midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos play for Barcelona, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Salcido (five yellow cards and a sending off in qualifying) are team mates at PSV Eindhoven and strikers Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela play in this country for West Ham and Arsenal respectively.  However, the most intriguing Mexican prospect for years will probably be playing at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool next season: Javier Hernandez (who will only be 22 on 1st June) joined Manchester United recently and is arguably the best striker to have emerged from the country since Sanchez. I’ve not seen him play, but if I was Dimitar Berbatov I’d be on the phone to my agent if Hernandez starts banging them in during the tournament.

Hernandez is more of a long term goalscoring prospect as Mexico don’t really have a dominant striker – the apparently ageless Cuauhtemoc Blanco is 37, neither Franco nor Vela have really done the business at international level and Nery Castillo wasn’t even named in the provisional squad. The short term solution appears to be Alberto Medina, who didn’t play at all in the qualifiers but has scored in two of Mexico’s last three friendlies including the 1-0 win over Chile last Sunday.

I’ll go for an England win, but if we stop the Mexicans from scoring then I think we can look forward to both the Japan friendly and the first game of the finals against the USA with a lot of confidence. Another point to remember is that the Mexicans are tight defensively and have a decent track record in the World Cup – it would not be a huge surprise if they beat South Africa in the opening game – and so we may have to be patient. And no booing Jamie Carragher either.

In other news, Gary Linekerdecided to leave The D**ly M**l as a football columnist this week…Diego Maradona ran a journalist over (as far as we know it wasn’t one from the Mail)…Michael Ballack and Lassana Diarra won’t be playing in the tournament, which is a shame as I really wanted to use ‘Ballack’s Out’, ‘Never Mind The Ballacks’ or ‘What A Load Of Old Ballacks’ as article titles. It’s also a shame that we won’t be treated to a French player running around with ‘Lass’ on the back of his shirt, but you can’t have everything can you 😉

New Zealand & Japan Name Squads

While the coaches of the other 30 nations taking part in the World Cup next month are still mulling over their squads, New Zealand’s Ricki Herbert and Japan’s Takeshi Okada have already named their 23 man squads.

New Zealand’s All Whites contains six British based players: captain Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers), fellow defender Tommy Smith (Ipswich) and strikers Rory Fallon (Plymouth Argyle), Chris Killen (Middlesbrough) and Chris Wood (West Brom). Midfielder Michael McGlinchey plays for Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League.

Interestingly, Japan’s squad – which will be facing England in a couple of weeks so we’ll look at them in depth at that point – includes only four players based outside the J-League.

Quite a few friendlies featuring qualifiers this week: Mexico face Senegal at the Azteca in the early hours of tomorrow morning UK time; they also play Angola on Friday, the same day that Germany play Malta.

Stay tuned: tomorrow we’ll be looking at our 30 man squad whilst trying to watch the second leg of the Nottingham Forest v Blackpool play off semi final. At time of writing it looks as if it will include a middle aged man nicknamed ‘Calamity’ in goal, several injured centre backs and a German with a Canadian accent who has played about five minutes in the Premiership this season. Oh and I almost forgot: our talismanic striker has a groin strain.

It wouldn’t be the World Cup if everyone was fit though, would it?

By the way – Chelsea 8, Wigan 0? That’s a baseball score. Wigan should be ashamed of themselves.

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.