NO COUNTRY DOES WORLD CUP DRAMA QUITE LIKE ENGLAND. IN 1998 IT WAS DAVID BECKHAM PICKING UP A RED CARD FOR KICKING DIEGO SIMEONE OF ARGENTINA. AFTER ENGLAND'S loss (on penalty kicks), Beckham received death threats, and hanging him in effigy became a favorite pub pastime back home. Four years later Becks redeemed himself by scoring the lone goal in a rematch with Argentina—only to see England go out in the quarters 2-1 to Brazil. In that match goalkeeper David Seaman committed a howler for the ages, letting a 35-yard free kick by Ronaldinho flutter over his head and into the net. And in 2006 it was Wayne Rooney who pulled a Beckham, getting red-carded for stomping on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho in a quarterfinal loss (on penalty kicks).
This time around the English didn't even wait for the tournament to start before giving the tabloids reason to bust out the 150-point type. In January it was revealed that defender John Terry, who is married, had carried on an affair with the then girlfriend of Wayne Bridge when the two were teammates at Chelsea. The scandal caused Bridge, who was being counted on to provide cover at left back, to quit the national team—even after manager Fabio Capello took away Terry's captaincy.
L'affaire Terry couldn't have come at a worse time. After failing to qualify for Euro 2008, England breezed through its World Cup qualifying group, but the loss of Bridge has exacerbated an already shaky defense and driven the needle on the nation's angst meter from LOW to OH, NO, HERE WE GO AGAIN.
You'll forgive striker Jermain Defoe for wondering what he has to do to crack England's starting 11. Defoe lit up the Premier League for Tottenham, scoring 17 goals in 28 games through April 4, but he's still likely to find himself watching from the bench as Aston Villa's Emile Heskey starts alongside Man U's Rooney. That Defoe is more dangerous than Heskey is not up for debate. Last November, Defoe scored five goals against Wigan in 36 minutes; Heskey has had three Premier League goals all season. What Heskey does bring is a physical presence (at 6' 2" he's seven inches taller than Defoe) and the ability to hold up the ball.
In Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, Capello has two of the world's top attacking central midfielders. The trouble has always been finding a way to play them together. The conviction that they could thrive alongside each other, with one falling back into a defensive position when the other pushed forward, never yielded the expected results. "If we are both honest—and Stevie is a very honest man—we both haven't played as well for England as we have for our clubs, particularly over the last two seasons," Lampard said in late 2008. "I think if we had done, we probably would have qualified for the Euros."
Capello's conundrum, then, is to decide if the benefit of having his two best midfielders on the pitch outweighs the risk of forcing one to play out of position. The answer is likely to be yes, so look for Gerrard in an unfamiliar role on the left wing, where Capello has limited options.
The extent to which Bridge will be missed depends on the fitness of Ashley Cole. The Chelsea left back—himself a tabloid regular (he faces a club fine of as much as $600,000 for allegedly bringing a woman into his hotel room on the road)—fractured his left ankle in February and was not expected to resume playing until May. Capello's other options are either inexperienced (Leighton Baines, Stephen Warnock) or not natural left backs (Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry). Fielding a strong back four is crucial for England because its goalkeeping situation is, as the Brits might say, dodgy. Keeper David James is an injury-prone 39-year-old whose nickname, Calamity James, hardly inspires confidence.