England World Cup PreviewPosted: Monday May 27, 2002 7:15 PM
How they line up
It will be a major surprise if coach Sven-Goran Eriksson does not opt for a 4-4-2 formation. The Swede preaches simple, straightforward soccer with a flat back four, compact midfield, and pace and directness in attack.
David Seaman, despite concerns over his age and fitness, remains first-choice goalkeeper, with Nigel Martyn and David James capable deputies.
In defense, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell are the center-backs, although their relationship is not exactly telepathic. Ferdinand has improved since a move to Leeds, where he has been the captain of a troubled ship. Campbell had an uneasy start at Arsenal, but is a strong and commanding defender. Gareth Southgate is articulate and comfortable on the ball.
Other alternatives in the center are Martin Keown, Danny Mills and the versatile Jamie Carragher, though one of the latter two could be asked to fill in at right-back following Gary Neville's injury. However, Owen Hargreaves is the most likely option, having played himself into contention with displays in friendly matches that demonstrated his versatility.
On the left, Ashley Cole is struggling back from injury and should start, but Wayne Bridge has made a late run to supplant him. Phil Neville could have also filled in at left-back, but he missed the final cut, as he did in 1998.
In midfield, David Beckham, assuming he is fit, will start on the right flank, where his crosses and crossfield passes are a key attacking weapon. But the captain also has license to roam infield.
Had he been fit, Steven Gerrard, a dynamic presence would have played in the holding role, where his excellent long-range passing could have been used to great effect. Either Nicky Butt or Owen Hargreaves will fill the void. Paul Scholes has a more attacking role in front and will need no encouragement to make late runs into the penalty area.
Left midfield is a problem position. If fit, Kieron Dyer is most likely to fill it, but he has so far been hampered by injuries and inexperience. Alternatives include Trevor Sinclair, switching Emile Heskey from the attack or even pushing Ashley Cole into midfield with Wayne Bridge coming in at left-back.
If Beckham is not fit for the opening game, Gerrard could have switched to the right, with Nicky Butt coming into the holding position. Hargreaves can also fill this role.
Joe Cole, the talented West Ham youngster, may be the joker in the pack, a potential match-winner on the bench to unlock a tight match with his unpredictable play. However, his lack of big-match experience may count against him.
Trevor Sinclair and Danny Murphy were contenders for back-up on the right, with Murphy's greater combativeness probably counting in his favor -- until he was ruled out by injury. Another alternative for the left midfield could be Heskey, but his pace and power are most likely to be used in tandem with Michael Owen in attack.
Pace in attack is the key, with the equally quick but inexperienced Darius Vassell the most likely replacement for Owen, if the latter's hamstrings don't hold out. Robbie Fowler is arguably a more complete forward than Owen, while Teddy Sheringham, though unlikely to last 90 minutes, is a clever customer.
From World Soccer magazine.