Fabio Capello has always been consistent with his selections, and in four of England’s last five matches, it has been Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey who have been England’s starting marksman and both can be considered as shoe-ins for England World Cup squad. However, competition for places is ripe, and at the time of writing, four of the Premier League’s top ten scorers are English, which in a season ending with the World Cup, is a prospect nothing short of a mouth-watering for the England fans.
Every good International side needs a potent strike force, and there is currently none better than Spain’s David Villa and Fernando Torres. During this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup, Valencia’s Villa and Liverpool’s Torres ran defences ragged. Before going out to a surprise semi-final exit to USA, Torres and Villa had scored six goals between them in the group stages. In Spain’s victorious Euro 2008, the two forwards showed a telepathic nature between and both appeared to know the other player’s game inside out. Capello needs to get Heskey and Rooney playing in this way. Heskey and Rooney both offer the England side an immense workrate, with Heskey’s physical presence and Rooney’s determination off the ball. Heskey can hold up play and wait for others to take up position whilst Rooney can also drift out wide and take on defenders a lot more than Heskey. 23-year-old Rooney is in fine form for his country and has scored six goals in his last seven games for his country, boasting an impressive overall record of 25 goals in 55 caps.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Jermain Defoe is arguably England hottest goalscorer right now aside from Rooney. Defoe has scored five goals in six for England recently and currently has an aura about him where everything he hits seems to go in. Defoe scores more than Heskey by a long shot, so could feel aggrieved that he does not start more for his country. Capello might feel a little reluctant to start two like for like strikers in Rooney and Defoe, though Rooney does offer more in the way of balls across the box and assists. The 26-year-old Defoe is starting every game for Spurs now which is more than can be said for his first spell at White Hart Lane and is bursting with confidence. Defoe’s Spurs teammate Peter Crouch is a player who might not possess Defoe’s confidence right now. The former Southampton man has scored just twice since moving from Portsmouth whilst only starting twice so far in the league.
Michael Owen is another man who has not started as much for his country or new club recently, starting just once so far this season. However, Owen is already down in United folklore after scoring the winner in the Manchester derby in the 95th minute. The ex Liverpool man rolled back the years by ghosting in behind an unobservant Manchester City defence to beat the offside trap, then settling himself and coolly side footing across City keeper Shay Given into the bottom right hand corner. Owen showed composure and impeccable finishing with the outside of his right boot to take his goal. Owen hasn’t played for his country in 18 months since a substitute appearance against France in a friendly in Paris but is still his country’s best six-yard-box striker. He is England’s fourth highest goal scorer ever and his intelligence off the ball is far greater than any other outsider for the World Cup squad. The Chester-born striker guarantees goals and has far more International experience than the likes of Defoe and Crouch and if he can stay fit and keep playing he will surely be bearing away at Capello’s mind.
Like Defoe, West Ham United’s Carlton Cole will be confident of a place at the finals. Cole has scored 2 goals in 5 so far and despite a modest total of 10 goals in 27 last season, is in the form of his career and scored 6 goals in 7 league games during between December and January last season. Much was made of Cole when he first emerged in the Chelsea first team as a mere 18 year old, but he was deemed surplus to requirements after numerous unproductive loan spells and failing to hold down a first team place under Claudio Ranieri and later Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Now managed by his old Chelsea teammate Gainfranco Zola at West Ham, Cole looks a confident, intelligent, skilful footballer. Cole started the move which lead to Alessandro Diamanti’s penalty against Liverpool was a thorn in the side of the subpar but plucky Merseysiders as West Ham lost 3-2 at the weekend. The former Aston Villa striker took the ball on the halfway line and showed vision and technique, swivelling nicely to poke through for the onrushing Zavon Hines who was felled by a hapless Jamie Carragher. Cole later proved his ability in front of goal when heading home a corner. Cole moved shrewdly to get in between Torres and Carragher in the six yard box and glanced the ball low across Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina. Only time will tell if Cole is a natural goalscorer at this level but he and Defoe linked up well in a friendly against Holland and he will take heart from the fact that all of his four previous England caps have been under Capello’s reign. If Cole continues his good form, England fans will count themselves lucky as Cole was named in Nigeria’s squad in August 2008 because of Nigerian parentage but was ineligible as he was too old to switch countries.
Another player to score for his side at the weekend was Sunderland’s Darren Bent. Bent showed patience and good movement to first beat the offside trap with his back to goal, before showing a calm nature in front of goal to spin round and pass the ball home into the bottom right hand corner. Bent is one of Capello’s few out and out goalscorers and has scored a staggering 5 goals in 6 so far this season. Bent has been a clinical finisher all throughout his career and scored 19 goals in 60 for his old club Spurs despite rarely starting. The 25-year-old has scarcely featured for his country though, and has only won four caps since his debut in 2006. He enjoyed a rich vein of form for England’s u21s scoring 9 times in 14 appearances.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has also been rarely employed by Capello. The Aston Villa striker did his chances no harm by scoring against Paul Hart’s hopeless Portsmouth side. The 22-year-old exploited the slow Tal Ben Haim by letting the ball run across him before accelerating away to stab the ball home into the top left hand corner. Agbonlahor is a player who can create his own chances, drifting out wide and creating his own space. His range of passing and crossing is also a vital element of his game, not unlike Rooney.
Capello of course has a wealth of options available, such as target menlike Crouch and Heskey and runners in the ilk of Rooney and Agbonlahor. But the great part is that England will surely have at least three strikers who have scored fifteen goals in the Premier League. If Capello can strike up an established partnership who can link up well and get the balance right, with Gerrard and Lampard storming forward into the opposition’s box, it could be a long summer of celebration for England.