Luke Harvey, our budding sports journalist, offers some thoughts on the England World Cup warm-up and says Darren Bent’s fate, though important, won’t affect his summer viewing plans …
England’s first warm-up match in the approach to the 2010 World Cup, a 3-1 victory over Mexican opponents, seemed on paper a solid and comfortable win. In reality it was anything but.
On display for 90 minutes were two teams incapable of defending set pieces, and England looked nervous and edgy as they lined up in a curious formation without any of the FA Cup finalists in the team, some fresh faces appearing, and crucially for Sunderland fans – no Darren Bent.
Our chief goal scorer – and the second best Englishman this season – was left out of the squad with a hamstring injury, something which may well be the final nail in his England coffin.
It leaves him with just one match against Japan to prove to the world, and most importantly Fabio Capello, that he is worthy of a place in the World Cup squad. With so many players vying for a limited number of spaces, it seems Bent is in direct competition with former Spurs team mates Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch.
With Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey’s pillows already being fluffed on the plane, and Crouch holding a rather impressive goal scoring record on the international stage – scoring again against Mexico, albeit being offside and using his hand – that leaves Defoe and Bent battling out to play second fiddle to Rooney in South Africa.
Bent’s supporters and critics have been divided down the middle. His supporters argue that his impressive goal scoring record, not just with Sunderland but with every club he has been at, should warrant him a place in the squad. While his detractors, unable to ignore his impressive 24 goals this season, seem more concerned that he doesn’t offer the team much else.
Personally I don’t think it’s any of these factors, but instead a lack of already established international pedigree, he has just five caps, that will see Bent watch the World Cup from home, or wherever he may be holidaying at the time.
Yet Bent’s World Cup dream isn’t dead, not just yet. An impressive performance against Japan could be enough to see him through, but it will be far from easy.
As shown in the match against Mexico, auditioning for a role in England’s World Cup squad can be a cut throat business. It really is fly or die. Off the back of impressive seasons with their respective clubs, Leighton Baines, James Milner and Tom Huddlestone all had opportunities of varying lengths to impress the watching world in an England shirt but they all came off a little flat.
In fact the only person to perhaps even alter Capello’s impression was Robert Green. The West Ham goalkeeper put in a fine string of saves to deny Carlos Vela each time he was tested and may have done enough to confirm himself as England’s number one.
In Spain the goalkeeping conundrum is hotly contested, how do you pick between Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes or Pepe Reina? In England it’s equally as hard to choose, but for completely different reasons. Out of Green, David James and Joe Hart – who is less likely to get stage fright and provide a monumental goalkeeping gaffe? If only Craig Gordon had been born a few miles further south.
With Darren Bent it seems that despite possessing incredible form from beginning to end of the season, it’s just not going to be enough to usurp Defoe who finished the season on the back of an injury and with the goals having dried up.
Will Bent’s inclusion make me any more or less patriotic? Not a chance. The relevant days have all been taken off work and I am all set to watch each and every England match with no interruptions, although I may be watching through my fingers a lot of the time.
For many others though, the chest-thumping lion-like attitude will not be there should Bent be excluded from the squad. Perhaps too many false dawns are taking their hold and wearing down any possible England love-in. Instead these fans will turn their attentions to Sunderland’s other World Cup interests, John Mensah, Paulo Da Silva and the latest recruit, Cristian Riveros.
For many Sunderland fans, the World Cup will be the first opportunity to see Riveros play, and an opportunity to remember what Da Silva looks like. Riveros will be donning the red and white stripes, only they will be the stripes of South American qualifying table toppers Paraguay – not Sunderland, not just yet anyways – and many Sunderland fans will be looking to follow his progress to form an opinion on the new boy.
Able to play anywhere across the midfield, Riveros was widely reported to be a £12m target of Steve Bruce while at Wigan two years ago. Instead he joins ourselves, on a free, and will be using the world’s biggest tournament to give us a good impression of his abilities.