Monday, May 15, 2006

Whine Rouneigh

So Nancy, I mean Sven, has announced the squad for England's forthcoming trip to the World Cup in Germany. A few surprises there, including his pronunciation of Wayne Rooney as "Whine Rouneigh", despite having worked with the lad for about 3 years and lived in England for 5. So here's the Freedmanslife evaluation of the squad...

Robinson is top class, nuff said - Spurs fans reckon having him in goal is the single difference between mid-table and a UEFA Cup spot. Calamity James is one of the best instinctive keepers in the world (anyone who saw him in the game against Turkey that got us into the Euro 2004 final will know he kept us in it), but give him too much thinking time and he turns into a rubber-armed buffoon. Rob Green plays for Norwich, and to be honest there's not really anyone else - Nigel Martyn's last trip to Germany was shortly after D-Day, Scott Carson and Chris Kirkland average 10 games and 7 broken bones a season between them, and Richard Wright is rumoured to be living in a caravan on the Isle of Skye. So pretty self-selecting then - well done Nancy, 8/10.

Terry and Rio pick themselves of course. Judas has pedigree, and is also an automatic selection provided FIFA's drug testing people approve his medication. Gharragha is an ideal utility player (not in the usual Scouse meaning of being handy with stolen white goods). Gary Neville is old but remarkably fit; luckily he no longer insists on taking the second choice Neville (Aaron) on holidays. Ashley Cole may not be match-sharp, but as his rehabilitation has included knobbing Cheryl Tweedy every night, it's a fair bet that his general fitness has been maintained. Wayne Bridge is better than Luke Young and Paul Konchesky, which is not saying much, but a few months playing on loan for Fulham should have inspired him to put in a good summer and escape back to the Bridge to replace the quite shocking Del Horno. No room in the squad for Ledley King, due to his injury plus plenty of decent cover in central defence and holding midfield - a bit unlucky but the right call. Michael Dawson will be one for the next big tourno, when Judas is over the hill - this one came just a tad early. All in, Nancy gets another 8/10.

Whilst yet to be convinced about Gerrard-Lampard in midfield together, they are world-class. Beckham has had one of his best seasons to date and is bang in-form and in excellent fitness for a major tournament for the first time I can remember. Joe Cole has shown for Chelsea and in qualifying that he is a very adequate answer to the left-wing question (Ming and Gordon Brown may beg to differ). Carrick has emerged as a reliable holding player for Spurs, and deserves his chance, although it is difficult to see him getting into the side if everyone remains fit. Downing has had a belter for Boro, and again is one of the few naturally left-sided players available - a bit of a punt, and something of a sop to Steve McClaren, but will run his socks off. Lennon is a great wild-card option but totally unproven at any level outside the domestic game - at least he is a rarity in that he is damn fast and takes people on. Owen Hargreaves must be Nancy and Sven's love-child, because nobody understands how this man can have nearly 30 caps and be an automatic squad choice. Jenas is erratic, doesn't bring anything new to central midfield, lacks versatility, and is an odd choice - whilst Eriksson was in take-a-punt mood, he could have thought about Reo-Coker, who has been excellent in central midfield, and can play the holding role or further advanced. Spare a thought for SWP, whose move to the bright lights of London has effectively cost him his place. For once, Sven didn't bottle a difficult decision. All in, Nancy's starting midfield picked itself, and the excellent wild-card selections have been neutralised by the two hangers-on. She gets 6/10.

Rooney is crocked, but we may as well take advantage of FIFA rules that he can be replaced at the last minute. Ditto Michael Owen, who is worth taking half-fit, given his amazing knack for poaching useful goals for Engerland. Not sure what rules FIFA have that allow us to chuck Crouch at the 11th hour (altitude sickness?), but in fairness he has improved immeasurably for Liverpool this year, and nobody has a clue what to do with his height and giraffe-like physique. It's almost like the cartoonists at Roy of the Rovers decided to include a new beanpole character, etched in a stick-man with a view to revisiting and improving later, and forgot all about it until after publishing. Theo Walcott - just bizarre. Fine, his girlfriend is feeeeeeyat but so is Jenas's bird, and he should be taking the summer off. I have no problem taking a punt with this nice young man (less so if Mel needs babysitting while he's away), even despite his lack of top-flight experience - or in fact any experience - but not when Nancy is only taking 4 strikers, 2 of which are crocked and one of which is Peter Crouch. I think Jenas should have been left behind and Defoe, despite the lack of form, taken instead. In fact, I reckon Eriksson missed a trick by not seeing whether a lean, on-form Fowler, or a vastly improved James Beattie, who is used to playing as a sole striker for attacking midfielders to run onto, could do a job. I agree that Darren Bent's style won't work at the World Cup, and Andy Johnson isn't good enough yet. Overall, a poor 4/10 for Nancy.

In conclusion, we have a pretty decent squad going forward, provided we get no further injuries to key players, and at least one of Whine Rouneigh and Owen regains fitness. But the Freedmanslife prediction is that we will be lucky to get to the semi-finals. We are incapable of beating Sweden, so unless we hammer Paraguay and T&T by more than they do, we'll probably get Germany in the last 16. If we scrape through that, we get the Czechs or Portugal, both on form and full of flair players who can beat anyone on their day. And then we get Brazil of course.

I will be placing my bets on England to lose to either Germany or Brazil, and probably on penalties or by a lucky goal - it's part of our tradition to lose to the hosts and/or eventual winners, and/or on penalties in a match where we play well and "woz robbed". Still, there will be that rare joy of choosing a second team to support - I'm already rallying behind Togo as the tournament dark horses...

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