AND come back later today for our Eric Roy interview
Here would be as good a place as any for people to post their thoughts on Benfica 2 Sunderland 0. The official club site’s stuttering text coverage had us playing some good stuff at times, though we were often second best. Consolation for two Sunderland players (one of whom played last night): they’re both in the make-believe England team Luke Harvey selects in case Capello banned his entire World Cup squad from the next game, as Laurent Blanc has done in France …
When Laurent Blanc announced that the 23 French players who travelled to South Africa would be banned for the next match, the English media made sure we knew just who the new manager could call upon to face Norway.
Real Madrid players Lassana Diarra and Karim Benzema, alongside Arsenal’s Samir Nasri will be likely call-ups for the match, having been omitted from the World Cup squad.
What, though, would happen if the same punishment was brought upon the England team? Far be it for me to say that they brought shame upon our nation, but they certainly did themselves no favours in our eyes. Imagine if Fabio Capello turned to a stunned dressing room and told them that none of them would be representing England in the next match, that eleven men hungry for success would instead get his undivided attention.
You would like to think Terry, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney et al would sit in stunned silence but instead you imagine they would smirk, knowing fine well once their little “punishment” was over, they would be back in the starting 11 quicker than you could believe.
It’s a pipedream, I know, but that’s what this is all about.
Some positions pick themselves: Paul Robinson should arguably have gone to South Africa. He was never considered by the higher ups in the England squad and was never mentioned in conjunction with flying out to South Africa. Robinson would be my starting goalkeeper. Joe Hart would also have got the nod, but despite not playing a single second at the World Cup he is guilty by association and therefore also suspended for the match.
The right back position as a little trickier, Glen Johnson’s defending skills are rightly called into question but he is still the best right back England has to offer. By process of elimination the choice would probably have to go to Micah Richards, the once bright star has his heard turned by the shiny jewellery and fast cars but is still highly touted amongst Premiership managers.
While Ashley Cole’s off the field antics leave a lot to be desired, his football ability can often get the heart racing. Scoring a wonder goal against ourselves as Chelsea romped to a 7-2 victory he is England’s premier left back. Leighton Baines lost out to Stephen Warnock as his understudy, named in the provisional 30 but subsequently dropped. So he gets his chance to shine here after an impressive season with Everton.
The centre back pairing is lead by Phil Jagielka, his season may have been cut short by a bad injury but he’s needed to lead the line here with no Ferdinand, Terry, Upson, Dawson or King available.
Alongside him will be Sunderland’s very own Michael Turner. The jury may still be somewhat out on Turner, but his early form with Sunderland was highly impressive, scoring a goal, having a goal deflected in on his debut against his former club and generally being a towering menace. While he may have faded somewhat towards the end of the season, he has all the potential to send this makeshift England team to new heights – at least for one game.
As we begin to get to the midfield, the team begins to pick itself. Controversially omitted Theo Walcott gets the nod on the right wing, proving a really good performance against Croatia could hold you in good stead for quite sometime. He has pace to burn and with the right instructions (run at the left back and then drill a cross in) he could prove to be an asset. Amongst a team that lacks experience, he has it in abundance already.
On the left wing is Sunderland fan Adam Johnson who was somewhat of a surprise inclusion following his move from Middlesbrough to Man City. Scorer of the sublime equaliser against his boyhood team, he has already proven to be capable of playing the game to a high level with no problems.
In the centre of the park is Scott Parker. Perhaps somewhat overrated (very much so if the apparent £15m West Ham want for him is true…) but always a reliable central midfielder. He was declared indispensable by Avram Grant as he took over the reigns at the out of control West Ham and only narrowly missed out on the call-up to the team travelling to South Africa.
While Fabio Capello is busying backtracking on his original word and instead picking several injured players, (Ledley King, Gareth Barry) we will instead pick a player who has had a tremendous breakthrough season and has displayed all the ability of a player ten years his senior. Step forward Jordan Henderson, who with his intelligent runs, smart crosses and tight marking had a great first full season with Sunderland.
The strikers need no introduction, Darren Bent had a marvellous season and was worthy of the trip regardless. He will have been silently laughing to himself from his holiday resort, as far away from the disastrous World Cup campaign he could have been.
And because Capello would cease to function without a “big man little man” strike force, Bent will be partnered by Bobby Zamora who had the best season of his life. Making himself a presence in the Premiership and the Europa League where he helped Fulham to the final.
Richards (Man City) Jagielka (Everton) Turner (Sunderland) Baines (Everton)
Walcott (Arsenal) Henderson (Sunderland) Parker (West Ham) Johnson (Man City)
Bent (Sunderland) Zamora (Fulham)
Perhaps it wouldn’t have won the World Cup, but it’d be hard to imagine these 11 players would have put in a less inspired display than those who represented us in South Africa.