To no one’s surprise, David Beckham was retained by England manager Fabio Capello in the final 23-man squad for the Three Lions’ friendly in Paris next week. Beckham is one cap short of 100 in his England career and if he doesn’t get it against France, and it appears that he will based on this roster, he’ll very likely get it at Wembley against the US on May 28. I’ve said that Beckham deserves this honor and that it would be just a question of when, not if, and all signs point to him becoming only the fifth player in England’s history to reach the century milestone.
Spurs keeper Paul Robinson won back his place in the England setup, although he was included because of an injury to Scott Carson. Robinson has played fairly well in goal lately and in the end, I think the only other option was Robert Green, but West Ham was torched 4-0 in three consecutive games recently and that couldn’t have impressed Capello. Either way, it’s not really going to matter. David James is going to start in goal and he fully deserves the nod.
Robinson was the only player not amongst the 30-man provisional squad to be part of this group of 23, and I have to admit that there are a couple absentees on this roster that surprise me.
The two most glaring question marks that I have are the exclusions of Villa winger Ashley Young and Portsmouth striker Jermain Defoe, both of whom were part of the original 30-man roster. Defoe has scored six goals in six league games since moving to the South Coast in January and Ashley Young leads the Premiership in assists this season.
Young can play on either flank, though he plays on the left for Villa, and is simply a better player than Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing. I would guess that Joe Cole will start on that left side anyway, but the only reason I can come up with for taking Downing over Young is that Downing is left-footed, which is obviously traditional for left-wingers. No other midfielder picked in this team is left-footed, so that worked in Downing’s favor as well. Even so, Young is quicker than Downing, has better skills on the ball, and can serve balls in more accurately and dangerously than the Boro midfielder.
Opting to keep Michael Owen, Theo Walcott, and Peter Crouch ahead of Jermain Defoe is stunning. Keeping Crouch is more understandable because he’s a tall target man, something England doesn’t have, and can be brought on late in a game and have a big impact. With that said, Crouch has played a combined 29 minutes in Liverpool’s last six games. Michael Owen has two goals in Newcastle’s last five games, a cheap little toe-poke off a rebound from seven yards out against Birmingham in midweek and the tally today against Fulham. Walcott hasn’t even been used as a striker by Arsenal lately; he’s playing wide right where he can use his pace to beat defenders to the byline and get inside the area.
Sorry, if you’re picking a team based on current form (six in six for Defoe, two goals, two assists in seven games for Young, a winger), there’s no way those two players don’t make this squad, there’s just no way.
I have no problem with the other exclusions — David Wheater, Gabby Agbonlahor, Matthew Upson (injured), and Shaun Wright-Phillips — and was happy to see that Glen Johnson and Jonathan Woodgate kept their places in the side.
It’s curious that Capello chose to name this roster tonight, even though the majority of players on it (12 out of 23) are playing tomorrow and it’s possible that one, if not more, of those guys could get injured in the physical contests we’re likely to see. On top of that, it’s possible that one, if not more, of those guys just has an awful game and may not deserve to even be in the England squad.
Full 23-Man Roster (club):
Goalkeepers: David James (Portsmouth), Paul Robinson (Tottenham), Chris Kirkland (Wigan Athletic)
Defenders: Wayne Bridge, John Terry, and Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Joleon Lescott (Everton), Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Owen Hargreaves (Manchester United), Joe Cole and Frank Lampard (Chelsea), David Bentley (Blackburn), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)
Forwards: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Peter Crouch (Liverpool), Michael Owen (Newcastle)
Based on this team, here’s who I’d pick as my starting XI (4-2-3-1):
GK: David James
LB: Joleon Lescott
RB: Glen Johnson
CB: Rio Ferdinand
CB: Jonathan Woodgate
DMF: Owen Hargreaves
DMF: Gareth Barry
CMF: Steven Gerrard
LMF: Joe Cole
RMF: Theo Walcott
ST: Wayne Rooney
Captain: Steven Gerrard