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England qualification masks lack of depth

September 21st, 2009 by · No Comments · Features, Football

In this four-part series we look at the key areas of the team and squad. First up the goalkeepers.

England strolled to victory at Wembley to qualify for the finals and top their qualifying group. In the process this England team went about breaking all sorts of records. With the 31st goal of the campaign coming from Rooney England are the leading scorers across all the qualifying groups. In addition they are now the highest scoring England team in World Cup qualifying, ever. England have not been behind in a single game. Top scorer Wayne Rooney has now passed the record of 8 goals in a qualifying campaign held by Tommy Taylor, who died in the Munich air crash before the 1958 World Cup was played.

However, the statistic really getting the tabloids hot is the fact that 8 wins from 8 games has not been achieved since the qualifying rounds of the 1966 finals. We all know what happened next. It’s in the stars. Maybe.

The major benefit to the England set-up, outside of the result, is the opportunity to test some theories about the shape of the squad and team. Despite the result here, and the campaign to date, there are some key questions to be addressed before England look capable of matching Spain, Brazil, Holland and Italy in the atmosphere and pressure of a major tournament. In fact England have made a habit of buckling under the enormous pressure created by just such a qualification campaign. Think Euro 88. An almost faultless campaign to make it the finals just to lose every game and finish bottom of the their group.

So where might it all go wrong this time.

Although Robert Green, starting here, had little to do he did it well when needed. However, he has little international experience and will not have much of an opportunity to build one before the finals. Ben Foster, on the bench, looks like a liability for Manchester United and is unlikely to play first team football again when Edwin van der Sar regains fitness. That leaves David James, just the sort of keeper that can let you down with a spot of panto, as he did against Croatia in 2007. England lost 3-2 and failed to qualify for Euro 2008. He’s the type of keeper that can make a critical difference in major knockout tournaments. And not in good way. Beyond them I can’t see anyone in the Premiership that’s better. Shay Given looks the outstanding keeper in English football and he may yet be there playing for Eire.

Maybe the key difference between the past and the future is the manager. Let’s hope the difference in class, work-rate, possession, and the hint of flair that this England team is starting to show, is down to something that Fabio Capello is doing and that it continues. Maybe the most interesting test will come in November when England play a friendly against Brazil in November.

Next week we look at the case for the defence.

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