World Cup 2018 Preview

Well, here we are again!

As some of you already know, we lost all the content from March 2013 but in some respects that was a blessing in disguise – it means we don’t have anything to refer to from the disastrous outings in the last two tournaments.

A bit like the England team itself in that case.

There are only five players in this squad that went to Brazil four years ago and so this is practically a brand new side – the veteran is Ashley Young, who is five months older than Gary Cahill despite having won 24 fewer caps – and the only teenager in the side is Trent Alexander-Arnold. This looks like a squad for the future, but time will tell.

That being said, England are currently 16/1 to win the whole thing – about right considering it’s been 12 years since we got to the quarter finals and 28 since the semi finals – but that’s a bigger price than both our Group G rivals Belgium and arguably the least impressive Argentinian side since 2002.

With all due respect to both Panama and Tunisia, for once I agree with both the bookies and the pundits: the group is been us and Belgium, but as we face the Red Devils last it may come down to who can score the most goals against Panama. The Belgians get first crack at that next Monday (BBC1, 4:00pm) before we take on Tunisia (BBC1, 7:00pm) so at least we’ll have an idea of what we need to achieve in our second game (against Panama, Sunday 24th June, BBC1, 1:00pm).

Goals are where the potential issues are: only Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck have scored more than ten goals in their international careers and – unlike previous tournaments – they aren’t going to get much help in that respect from the midfield. In some respects Kane is comparable to Romelu Lukaku – he’s two months younger and they have similar strike rates in international games – but we don’t have anyone like Kevin DeBruyne or even Marouane Fellaini behind them.

The other problem with Belgium might be familiarity. Eleven of the Belgian squad play in the Premier League and four of them belong to Spurs – that’s only one fewer Tottenham player than in the England squad. But it’s also worth remembering that since their fourth place finish in Mexico ’86, Belgium haven’t got past the second round in a European based World Cup Finals tournament since 1990. Here’s a reminder of the last time they got that far:

Assuming we do get out of Group G – and a draw with Belgium should probably be enough – our next opponents will be one of the qualifiers from Group H. That section has been widely predicted as the most open of all the groups this summer and I’d agree with that: although Colombia reached the second round in Italia 90, it’s been 36 years since Poland qualified from the group stage in a ‘European’ World Cup and neither Japan nor Senegal have ever done that. We could be in trouble if it’s Poland: they’ve been rated higher in than us in the ever reliable (!) FIFA rankings since February 2017 and although they’ve not beaten us for 45 years, records like that are made to be broken.

After that it’s anyone’s guess. As for predictions, I’d say that another unsuccessful trip to the quarter finals is probably on the cards but as long as the team performs at a better level than 2014 – not an unrealistic expectation – then the fans can be happy. A little bit of luck and we might even lose narrowly to the Germans yet again.

From a wider perspective, in the same way as winning the Champions League and the Premier League seem to have become competitions that only elite teams can win, I’m not expecting a ‘new’ name on the World Cup this summer.

However, it’s worth pointing out that no country has won consecutive titles since Brazil in 1962 and with some serious questions about the morale of the Germany squad following an ill advised photo session that featured Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan with the Turkish PM, the Germans might not retain their title.

Spain – who sacked their manager yesterday – have a dreadful record in European based tournaments and despite been written off, Argentina actually have a slightly better record than Brazil do when playing in European World Cups.

Like most of us, I’ll probably have a much better idea of who might win the whole thing in a couple of weeks time but the two teams I’ll be following are Brazil and France: the former because they have a point to prove after their disastrous semi final four years ago and the latter because – on paper at least – they have the talent to compete with the Latin Americans. The question with the French is whether Didier Deschamps can utilise that talent effectively.

Finally for now, here are a few games that could be worth following:

Potential Upset: Russia v Egypt (Tuesday June 19th, BBC 1, 7:00pm BBC1)

I know FIFA rankings can be a bit odd, but Egypt overtook Russia in June 2016 and even though it was against the Soviet Union, the Egyptians won their only previous meeting back in June 1991. I also think there’s the possibility of a surprise result in the game between Argentina and Iceland (Saturday, 7pm ITV) but that may be along the lines of Argentina not winning.

England’s possible next opponents: Poland v Colombia (Sunday June 24th, ITV, 7:00pm) 

Four hours or so after England v Panama finishes so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Best game between two sides that may not qualify for The Round Of Sixteen:

Australia v Peru (Monday June 26th, ITV 3:00pm)

The assumption is that France and Denmark will qualify from Group B, but if anything upsets that plan then both of these teams might need to win to qualify for the next round: this pair are suspect defensively so there might be a few goals in a game that features two very colourful kits.

Most entertaining triple header: Wednesday 27th June

South Korea v Germany (BBC, 3:00pm, BBC)

Mexico v Sweden (BBC2, 3:00pm)

Brazil v Serbia (ITV, 7:00pm)

Brazil and Germany finish their group games on the same day. Although both of them should have qualified for the The Round of Sixteen, Serbia might need a point or three to join them. If South Korea v Germany starts getting out of hand, turn over to Mexico v Sweden on BBC2 because that’s probably going to be the game that settles the runners up in Group F.

Next scheduled post: a preview of England v Tunisia, which will be up at some point on Monday!

Gerrard Backing Shelvey Decision

Thomas Rooney takes a look at Jonjo Shelvey’s promotion into the senior team.

England captain Steven Gerrard believes that his Liverpool teammate Jonjo Shelvey has a bright international career ahead of him.

Shelvey was called-up from the under-21 squad to the senior team on Monday, a decision that surprised a few as he has not yet really cemented his place in the starting eleven for the Reds. However, Gerrard seemed to be very pleased that he was given the call from Roy Hodgson.

“I am delighted for Jonjo. He has been improving all the time since he arrived at Liverpool and has grown into a good footballer with good vision who can create and score goals.

“He also listens which means he will only get better with more games and experience.”

The call-up for the young Liverpool man has received a fair bit of criticism, with many saying that he is still unproven and does not deserve a chance at international level. This case does have a point as well, as the former Charlton man has not exactly set the world alight on Merseyside, despite a couple of good performances in the Europa League this season.

However, Shelvey does have a great deal of potential and could really start to shine after this call-up to the national side. If you popped to a forum on www.PlayBaccarat.com and asked who he was, people might come up short, but why not give him a go?

At 20-years-old, this is the best time to give players such as Shelvey a chance to work with England. Many people forget that getting a call-up does not mean that you are going to play. The squad has over 20 players in it, and you can only use 14 throughout 90 minutes.
But, when a couple of injuries come along like they have done, then it is the perfect opportunity to give youngsters the experience of working with the national side – so when you really do need to call upon them in the future, they know what to expect and will not be overwhelmed by the occasion.

It was never going to be a decision that pleased everybody, but Hodgson has a long term plan with England and is starting to build for the future. Giving players such as Shelvey the chance to be involved around the set-up of the team can only benefit them.

A Game We Can Win

Unexpectedly given pre-tournament expectations, England have reached the quarter finals of the European Championships for the first time since 2004.

Or to put it another way, we’ve reached the quarter finals for only the third time since the competition started just over half a century ago.

If that seems a rare feat, consider this. We’ve not played a competitive game against the Italians since the epic goalless draw in the Olympic Stadium in Rome which ensured qualification for the 1998 World Cup. Even more surprising is that fact that we’ve never played the Italians at a neutral site in a major tournament. Considering we first played them in 1933 and between us we’ve qualified for almost every World Cup and European Championships, it almost looks like we’ve gone out of our way to avoid each other. Ironically, we next them in a friendly in August.

Before I continue, it’s worth chucking in some facts about the quarter finals in the recent Euro tournaments, basically so you can start planning what to say when you turn up bleary eyed for work tomorrow morning. In the European Championships Since 1996:

* On average, at least one quarter final per tournament has gone to extra time, although none did in 2000.

* In the games that went to extra time, all but one were eventually decided on penalties

* Most of the quarter finals have been won by countries that won their groups: victories for Spain and Germany over the last two days took those numbers to eleven wins in 19 games for group winners in quarter finals

If we apply those statistics to today’s game there’s the possibility that England might actually win a penalty shoot out in the latter stages of the European Championship since Stuart Pearce dramatically made amends for his miss in the 1990 World Cup Semi Final when he scored in the shoot out against Spain in 1996.

However, before getting carried away there are some numbers that you should be aware of. We’ve only beaten Italy twice in our last ten meetings – the last win was at Le Tournoi in 1997 – and we’ve failed to score in half of those games. Not only that, the fact that we’re currently ranked higher in the FIFA rankings could count against us. Since 1996, at least one quarter final has seen a lower ranked side beat a higher ranked team – that hasn’t happened yet in Euro 2012.

Overall, these statistics point to something that we’ve all been expecting. This is going to be a tight, low scoring game – there may only be one goal in it – that could easily go to extra time and penalties. And whoever wins will probably be beaten by Germany in the semi finals.

So who have we got to look out for? Remarkably, Cesare Prandelli has already used 20 players in three games although the midfield of De Rossi, Marchisio, Pirlo and Thiago Motta played in all three group games: it should be remembered that Pirlo and De Rossi are also more than capable of getting on the scoresheet. Antonio Cassano of Milan normally starts up front but hasn’t finished a game yet and it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if he wasn’t on the pitch after 70 minutes today: it’ll be interesting to see who plays up front with him. Mario Balotelli started against both Spain and Croatia but was substituted in both games; although he came off the bench to score in the last minute against Ireland I’m wondering if he might be used to replace Cassano and the more experienced- and potentially more lethal – Antonio Di Natale will be alongside Cassano for Italy. The other question is which formation the Italians could use – they lined up in 3-5-2 against Spain and Croatia but changed to a 4-1-3-2 against Ireland and could use that again against us, largely because we don’t really play Mediterranean style football.

Apart from the enforced changes upfront due to Wayne Rooney’s suspension, Roy Hodgson has been fairly consistent in his team selection. Nine players started all three group games and both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have made cameo appearances in all of the games so far: arguably the biggest surprise has been Danny Welbeck. However if you’re going to base your attacking options around making Wayne Rooney comfortable then attempting to copy Manchester United’s style puts selecting Welbeck and Ashley Young ahead of arguably better players into context. Much has been made of the lack of Young’s defensive qualities at this level and if he starts today he needs to have the game of his life in that respect.

If we beat Italy, the old nemesis lies in wait in the semi finals. Germany took a while to get going against the Greeks on Friday night but once they hit their stride they look fantastic. I ‘watched’ Spain v France last night but my wife and I saw ‘The Woman In Black’ before it and that was more tense and dramatic than the game: my opinion is that ‘tiki taka’ is about as thrilling as ‘catenaccio’ used to be in so far as it’ll bore you into submission before striking when you probably expect it. Croatia and France learned that lesson the hard way.

Let’s not get too carried away if we win tonight. A bit carried away will be perfectly acceptable though.

Euro 2012: A Trip To The Dentist?

This morning as I was brushing my teeth I came up with an metaphor. This tournament is going to be like a trip to the dentist. Even if everything goes reasonably well, I’ll probably still need a scale and polish.

However, on this morning’s evidence there seems to be a hole that needs filling at the back, which could turn into something painful if it encounters anything harder or sharper than it was expecting over the next couple of days.

England’s European Championship campaigns have – on the whole – been worse than those in the World Cup. The main reason for this is that the group stages are much tougher due to the absence of the type of teams we’re normally drawn against (and subsequently draw with) in the World Cup. Euro 2012 features seven of the top ten national teams in the world – all the teams in Group B are in that classification – so these days the European Championships are reminiscent of the second group stages in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. It’s vital to remember that: just by qualifying for this tournament we’re amongst the elite national sides of world football.

The downside is exactly how unsuccessful we’ve been in this tournament over the years. The best we’ve done is beaten semi finalists (1968 and 1996) but in three of the last five competitions we’ve failed to get out of the group stage: after beating Spain in Naples on 18th June 1980, it was almost exactly sixteen years until we won another game in the finals within 90 minutes. To make you even more depressed, it’s nearly eight years since we last played a game in the finals – the 2-2 draw against Portugal that we ultimately lost on penalties.

Here are some other stats to cheer you up:

We’ve not beaten France since Le Tournoi (June 1997)

We’ve not beaten Sweden outside England since May 1937. Eleven days after this happened.

We lost the only other time we played Ukraine outside England and Robert Green was sent off.

However…here are the silver linings:

England actually went up a place in the revised FIFA rankings that were released on Wednesday: this is the highest ranked England team to take part in the European Championships since the FIFA rankings were introduced in 1994.

Including 1996, our recent record in the Euros is as good as Italy’s and better than Russia

Roy Hodgson’s record with both the Swiss and Finnish national teams has been referred to – but not necessarily understood – by the media. He has a proven track record of doing far better than expected with modest players: although the current England side is better than the sides I just mentioned, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with better players at international level.

Personally, I think it’ll be enough to qualify from the group: then the adventure really begins but first of all we have to avoid defeat against the French in a couple of hours time. Let’s see what happens: I’ll be back tomorrow with my analysis of what happened this afternoon.

Don’t Panic, It’s Only Bulgaria and Wales…

Over the next five days England have two very important games that will go a long way to resolving what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it next Summer. The answer we’re all hoping for is ‘watching England playing in Euro 2012’ regardless of whether that’s in the Ukraine and Poland, in an Irish pub somewhere in the Med or (in my case) the biennial ritual hiding behind the sofa with the curtains drawn whilst swearing your head off and trying not to scare the neighbours.

We’re not in a bad position in the Euro 2012 qualifiers – equal top with Montenegro but with a superior goal difference – but Bulgaria will have to beat us tomorrow night to stand any chance of even qualifying for the play offs and that could be where the fun starts.

There are no real outfield surprises in the squad which was announced at the beginning of the week: ten players from the Manchester clubs, seven players from London teams (including Scott Parker, now of Spurs) and two each from Everton and Liverpool. The big issue is the reserve goalkeepers – Frank Fielding of Derby and David Stockdale of Ipswich are both playing in the Championship – but before anyone starts moaning about that, it’s only fair to point out that Birmingham City have reached the group stages of the Europa League. We should be proud of the standard of football in the Championship rather than moaning about the lack of decent goalkeepers in the Premier League, as some ‘journalists’ have been doing.

The good news is that England have never lost in Bulgaria and we’ve won two of the three games we’ve played there – the last victory was a 3-0 win in a qualifier for the 1980 European Championships, goals coming from Kevin Keegan of SV Hamburg and Peter Barnes and Dave Watson of Manchester City. Those of us with long memories will remember that despite Barnes being voted Young Player of The Year in 1979/80, not long after the game he was sold by Malcolm Allison to WBA; it’s hard to imagine Roberto Mancini doing that with either Adam Johnson or James Milner.

Wales can do us a massive favour before our meeting next Tuesday by beating Montenegro but I’ll be surprised if they do – the Red Dragons have only won four of their last ten home games – but it’s important to point out that the Montenegrins have only won once in their last ten away games (the win in Bulgaria last September) and lost in Albania last month. If the bookies are right, there won’t be any changes at the top of the group as England are currently best price 4/7 for the win in Sofia, while Montenegro are 6/4 to win at the Millennium Stadium.

Both our game and Wales v Montenegro are live on Sky Sports, but because of the difference in time zones and kick off times, instead of watching adverts and listening to expert analysis from Bulgaria at half time, you’ll be able to turn over and experience that sinking feeling familiar to football fans on the other side of the Bridge when you see that Wales have conceded an early goal…

Pearce Ready For Battle

Thomas Rooney takes a look at England’s prospects in the UEFA U21 tournament, which started yesterday.

The domestic football season may well be over, but the serious stuff for England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce is just getting underway.

The former Manchester City boss leads England’s young guns in the European Under-21 Championships this month, starting with a game against tournament favourites Spain today.

Looking ahead positively to what the tournament can achieve for his players, Pearce has been discussing how his entire squad can get ‘better and better’ as the two weeks progress.

The former England international said: “The team that starts the tournament might not be as good as the team that finishes the tournament for us. I think they can get better and better as a group.”

This is of course the main objective of the Under-21 side – to prepare players for senior international football and major tournaments.

Two years ago for example, football betting pundits note how Joe Hart, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott were all involved in this Under-21 tournament and are not all set to be heavily involved in Fabio Capello’s plans for Euro 2012 next year.

Of the current squad, there are players with Premier League experience too and in comparing the two teams (2009 and 2011) Pearce can see the similarities when it comes to positive attributes.

He said: “The preparation’s probably been nigh on identical (to 2009), to be honest with you. The camaraderie with this group’s been fantastic. there have been a lot of players come to the party. I’m very buoyed up by it.”

Pearce is clearly enjoying his role within the England set-up right now and so he should. He gets the chance to help the most talented young footballers in the country progress their game. He is also involved in a position where results probably come second to progression of players.

This doesn’t mean England won’t want to win the tournament though. They lost in the final two years ago and Pearce in particular will want to put this right.

The winning mentality is a key factor to succeeding at international level and it would be beneficial if a group of young England players have a tournament victory under their belts.

In terms of England’s chances, they do go into the tournament as the No.1 ranked team in Europe and many people will place football bets on them being the team to beat. However, with Spain, Czech Republic and Ukraine to face in the group stages, they have a difficult path to the semi-finals.

However, if Pearce’s confidence in this team proves true, they have a very good chance of lifting a European trophy for England. Something the senior team will be aiming to do next summer.

Accusations, Bribes – And There’s A Game On Too

After all this week’s nonsense, it’s time for a competitive game!

The situation at the top of Group G couldn’t be any tighter – we’re top of the group on goal difference from Montenegro, who face Bulgaria at home after we’ve finished against Switzerland.

Let’s start with a sanity warning here. This is not going to be an easy game: Switzerland have only lost two of their last ten ‘true’ away games (I’m deliberately not going to count the games in the 2010 World Cup as they were played at neutral venues) and although they’ve had problems scoring outside Switzerland, they’ve kept clean sheets in half of those matches.

We’ve never lost to Switzerland at home and tomorrow would be a very bad time to start, especially as two of our last three qualifiers are away games in Montenegro and Bulgaria. The Montenegrins also have to travel (to Wales and Switzerland) but the pressure on them isn’t the same way as it is with us – this was a group we were supposed to easily qualify from but all credit goes to Zlatko Kranjčar and his team for not allowing that to happen; a competitive qualifying group also introduces a healthy sense of reality into the procedings for a change.

The one big advantage we have is that there are goals throughout the side – although the Spud Faced Nipper will be missing tomorrow (too many yellow cards), it’s worth pointing out that he hasn’t scored at Wembley since the 5-1 win over Croatia in September 2009. If Peter Crouch can return to the type of form he showed before the World Cup I’d expect him to get on the scoresheet.

The Swiss squad contains a few familiar faces – Johan Djourou, Phillipe Senderos and Valon Behrami (now at Fiorentina) should be well known to fans of Premier League clubs – but coach Ottmar Hitzfeld doesn’t have any issues when it comes to including younger players in the senior side. Midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka (both FC Basel) are still in their teens, while the three recognised strikers are all under 23 years old – despite being only 22, Bayer Leverkusen’s Eren Derdiyok already has 31 caps.

Verdict: I honestly can’t see Switzerland winning tomorrow, but it’s important to remember that we’ve not beaten anyone at Wembley since the win over Bulgaria last September and the Swiss have only lost once (in Macedonia) in their four aways since the World Cup. I also can’t see Switzerland being able achieve a third consecutive away goalless draw but I think it’ll be closer than most people think. If I was a gambling man (stop laughing at the back please) I’d go for an England win in a low scoring game.

TV details are as follows: England v Switzerland is on ITV1 (so it might be an idea to dig out a radio just in case) but even though Montenegro’s game kicks off after ours, it’s only being broadcast ‘as live’ on ESPN in the UK at 11:45pm. However, if you can’t wait, there are some excellent online resources for live football scores that are an awful lot easier to use than waiting for Teletext updates used to be.

Result: England 2, Switzerland 2. Coming back from two goals down at home is better than nothing, but getting to that stage in the first place is an indictment of some very sloppy end of season defending. Fortunately Ivelin Popov equalised for Bulgaria in Montenegro, so we’re still top of the group. Next competitive game is in Bulgaria on Friday 2nd September.

England remain cautiously optimistic ahead of Euros

Guest blogger Callum Dent takes a look at the England situation almost a year after the debacle in South Africa.

After the 4-1 defeat to Germany in South Africa which knocked England out of the World Cup, changes had to be made if the national team are to be a success at future major tournaments.

The Germans did Fabio Capello a favour. They showed him what happens when managers adopt players in form, use attacking and versatile formations and give youngsters to opportunity to shine on the big stage.
England were flat in SA and lacked everything that was needed to win a World Cup. Togetherness, flair, confidence and freedom were all absent and it showed as England scraped through to the knockout stages despite draws with Algeria and USA.

Since the World Cup, Capello has taken a leaf out of Joachim Low’s book and changed the approach to the England team. The Italian has selected players that are playing well for their domestic clubs and has used strategies that have made England look a more attractive prospect.

Despite Capello’s lack of commitment and communication, England have been improved following their nightmare World Cup, although they remain someway off free bet favourites Spain in terms of quality, and look like a team heading in the right direction once again.

The qualifier against Wales was a very good performance even if they were playing an out-of-depth and inexperienced Welsh side. The players picked adapted well to the situation and played like a team with confidence and freedom, which were non-existent in South Africa.

Capello chose Jack Wilshere and Scott Parker to form a new look midfield with Frank Lampard and it worked as England outmuscled, outthought and outplayed their Welsh counterparts. Aston Villa striker Darren Bent was given a chance and he took it, scoring a first half goal to set England on their way to a 2-0 victory at the Millennium Stadium.

England adopted a 4-3-3 setup and looked comfortable with Ashley Young proving to be an inspired selection on the wing. Capello has a young side that can be winners in the future and could be worth placing free bets on.

Younger players like Joe Hart, Andy Carroll, Wilshere, Gary Cahill, Young and Adam Johnson are all likely to play a huge part in the future of English football. With big players such as Steven Gerrard, Lampard and John Terry all close to coming to the end of their international careers, England look in capable hands.

Barry Handed England Captaincy

Pete South takes a look at some of tonight’s possible team changes before our first ever meeting with Ghana.

Manchester City’s Gareth Barry has been handed the England captaincy for the Friendly game against Ghana on Tuesday.

John Terry was controversially re-named as captain for the comfortable 2-0 victory over Wales on Saturday, but was released from his duties along with four other players involved in the upcoming Champions League quarter finals.

Barry was dropped for that game, with his replacement Scott Parker impressing in his absence, but the former Aston Villa midfielder will return to a much changed England side. England boss Fabio Capello believes he has made the right choice, despite coming in for some criticism for changing captain once more.

“Barry is a really good player, a good captain and he’s also the player with the most England caps in the squad now.” He commented.

Capello insists he is keen to avoid overkill as some of his squad potentially faced playing four games in ten days, but climbed down from his claim after the Wales match that he would make 11 changes for the Ghana game.

Some of the players have played a lot,” he said. “They should only play three games in eight days – I think four games in 10 days is too much. I respect the clubs and the players.”

“Joe Hart will play in goal, we will have Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and Leighton Baines will play at left-back. Barry will be the captain and Carroll will play up front.” He added.

Overall, Capello will make “about seven changes” to the line-up the helped England move back to the top of their European Championships qualifying group over the weekend, with only the services of Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart, Ashley Young and Scott Parker likely to be retained.
The Italian manager came in for criticism for his botched handling of the captaincy issue, and is still yet to speak to Rio Ferdinand about his decision to take the captain’s arm band from the Manchester United Shirt wearer and give it to Terry, who was initially stripped of the job because of accusations over an affair with a team-mate’s ex-fiancée.

Capello then faced a further grilling after vice-captain Stephen Gerrard revealed the former Real Madrid coach had spoken to him by phone over the captaincy issue, while insisting it would be inappropriate to contact Ferdinand in the same way.

“Rio was captain, so I must meet him. Steve is only vice-captain,” he said. I hope I will speak with Rio next week.”

Can Walcott Finally Be England’s Main Man?

With a little over three weeks to go until a rare local derby, guest blogger Pete South wonders if Theo Walcott can shine in Cardiff – and identifies one of Walcott’s biggest fans.

Those studying the online sportsbook will note that being selected for a World Cup isn’t always necessarily a good thing, while being dropped can also have its benefits.

Wayne Bridge, caught up in the eye of a storm as tabloids exposed the comings and goings of ex-team mate John Terry and his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel, decided to rule himself out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lampooned as he was lamented for his decision, sports betting pundits note how Bridge had the last laugh as he stood back and watch England burn to the ground.

Conversely Theo Walcott’s selection for the 2006 tournament has gone down in history alongside a despairing Rob Greene fumble or  a  Wayne Rooney stamp as one of the biggest aberrations in English football in recent years.

Sven Goran Eriksson took the young winger with him to Germany at the expense of Jermaine Defoe and promptly left him out of every single game. To add to his World Cup woes, Fabio Capello didn’t include him in his squad for South Africa as his form deteriorated towards the end of last season.

Both decisions involving Walcott affected the young winger, his club boss Arsene Wenger concurs, and as yet he has been unable to showcase his undoubted talent at international level

Is he ready to finally leave his mark on England as they look to recover the aura that slipped so badly during the farce in South Africa? The upcoming qualifier against Wales could provide the perfect opportunity for the former Southampton man.

He has impressed sporadically for England, most notably his hat-trick against Croatia in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but his omission from the world Cup squad in 2010 began a series of hurtful insights into his ability.

TV pundit Alan Hansen was ruthless in his assessment of Walcott, suggesting he lacked a “footballing brain”, and was more akin to a sprinter than a footballer.

It is the curse of the modern English winger that pace and dribbling ability cannot be married with a decent final ball – Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson suffer as Walcott does – but Walcott is the only one of the three who has been marked as the next big thing for England since a young age, the emphasis is on him.

His performance against Barcelona in Arsenal’s first leg Champions League tie was fairly typical. Some malice, some dangerous running, but he cut inside too often, refused to take his man on and most frustratingly of all, failed to put in a final ball against a side that Lionel Messi admitted they were worried about.

“Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us” the current Ballon D’Or holder said and it is a source of constant frustration that he is unable to replicate the form that saw him terrorise the Catalan club at the same stage last year.

But he has matured this season and looks to be learning his craft – something which can be said of the entire Arsenal team as they look for their first trophy since 2005. His seven goals so far is a good return for a wide-man, and with Arsenal still in with a chance of winning four trophies this year, big things are expected of him.

If England can find the best way to utilise him and extract all the talent from his right foot then they will have a very dangerous prospect on their hands. He is still young and learning, but sooner rather than later he must prove he is the man for England or face getting left behind. He is good enough, players of Lionel Messi’s calibre do not dish out praise at will, but now is the time, when England need him most, to show he is a world class talent.