GROUP B PREVIEW

Group B originally looked like one of the toughest in the World Cup Draw. However in the past few weeks, arguably the most important player for each of the three serious contenders from this group has fallen with a serious injury. This makes prognostication of this group particularly risky, but certain variables will remain the same regardless of the who is healthy and who is not. While England looked solid in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Hungary, they still look uncomfortable without Rooney up front.

Sven Goran Eriksson’s rocky but successful tenure as manager of England will come to and end at the end of the World Cup. Eriksson’s has restored English confidence and pride in its national Football squad, but he has not advanced the squad past the final eight at either the European Championships or the World Cup. This cup was supposed to be different, until Wayne Rooney, possibly the best young Footballer in the world was injured in a match versus Chelsea in April. The rise of Rooney who is destined to be mentioned among the all time greats of English Football (alongside Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Gary Linekar, etc.) had done so much to revive the sagging hopes of a Football mad nation. Now it appears, England will have to wait four more years to make a run at the ultimate prize.The English squad has some major deficiencies that probably would have prevented a world title even with a healthy Rooney.

Now those come into open view in Rooney’s absence. The team has excess of talented center backs, such as Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell, and Jamie Carragher. However, Eriksson doesn’t have a particularly strong stable of outside defenders which are critical in England’s long ball attack. Gary Neville and Ashley Cole are likely to start outside but neither inspires a whole lot of confidence.The midfield is outstanding, being led by Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Oh and England also has some guy named Beckham. Keep an eye on speedy Aaron Lennon, a youngster who showed great skill this past season with Totenham, and was a controversial selection of Eriksson’s. Jermaine Jenas, who also plays for Spurs, and the versatile Joe Cole could contribute as well. England is absolutely loaded in the midfield. Gerrard had to play a little bit of a withdrawn striker in the Hungary friendly and despite scoring a goal, he looked uncomfortable.

The Forwards beyond Wayne Rooney whose health as mentioned above is in serious doubt, are average at best for a squad with England’s expectations. Michael Owen has seemingly regressed over the past few years and had a disastrous time with Real Madrid before returning home to play for Newcastle. Owen has a foot injury that has been nagging him all year and tends to fall asleep during games, although he is still capable of the spectacular. Peter Crouch provides a tall target at 6’7,” and is much liked by his manager. However, Crouch is a poor finisher and probably will not be an adequate replacement for Rooney. Young Theo Wolcott, only 17 years old could get some time up front as a late game sub. Wolcott is destined to be one of the brightest stars in the world a few years down the road, but is still very inexperienced at the highest levels of club and international football. Wolcott’s selection that evidently came at the expense ofEngland is a solid side, despite some obvious problems. While they will win this group, they will not win the World Cup, and that is the ultimate goal in a nation as Football crazy and as commercially vital to the sport’s worldwide appeal as England.

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