Going into this World Cup many people are expecting big things from the England squad, and why not? All play in what’s considered the best league in the world, they have one of the top three strikers in the world in Wayne Rooney, a top 5 defender in John Terry, and manager Fabio Capello comes second only to Jose Mourinho. But for every positive you find, their seems to be glaring negatives, and it forces you to ask, “Which England squad will show up in South Africa?”
One can point to their World Cup qualifying and how they blazed through their group, scoring the most goals in the qualifying round with 34 and a goal differential of 28. Impressive right, but lets look at the competition; Ukraine, Croatia, Belarus, Kazakstan and Andorra. Ukraine and Croatia are both respectively ranked in the top 25 in the deceptive FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings. Croatia got a case of Billy Big Boots due to their knocking England our of qualifying for Euro 2008 and their impressive run in that tournament, and no disrespect, but Ukraine along with the rest are not quality opponents. How did England do against the elite? Loss to Brazil, loss to Spain, loss to France. Now they were able to manage a draw with Holland and a win against Germany, but are these fixtures enough of a test for team that wants to raise the World Cup. What we haven’t seen from England is how they are going to respond when they get punched in the mouth. What will they do when their lip gets bloodied? We’ve seen it from the World Cup favorites. We’ve seen Brazil go 2-0 down to the US in the Confederations Cup final. They battled through a marathon qualify campaign. A campaign that saw surprising home draws to Colombia and Ecuador, and an unacceptable home draw and loss to lowly Bolivia. The result? They came out winners of the Confederations Cup and top of the group. Even Spain after having their 35 game win streak broken by the US they went undefeated in WC qualifying.
While nations are cutting players like Patrik Viera, Marco Borriello, Guiseppe Rossi, and Benni McCarthy. England is reaching out to an ailing Owen Hargreaves, and retirees Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher. England can be a very good team but it looks like this team will get its baptism by fire. How it responds to the heat from opposing sides and their home media will show us how strong and courageous these Three Lions really are.