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Capello's World Cup worries

Posted 26th May 2010

England's problems at recent major tournaments have been in attack. Shorn of the services of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen for crucial matches, they often lacked the creativity and killer instinct to score against major rivals in the latter stages.

Now the concerns lay in the defensive third. Fabio Capello now has a wealth of attacking talent, spearheaded by the world-class Rooney. He does not have the same luxury at the other end of the field, where injuries, goalkeeping uncertainty and a collective loss of form makes England a soft target for the World Cup's main protagonists.

The world's best strikers will have been licking their lips watching the Three Lions' patchy win over Mexico. There is no cohesion at the back and, although the absence of John Terry and Gareth Barry was significant, the defensive record of the first choice line-up does not stand up to scrutiny.

England kept four clean sheets in ten qualifying matches, two of which came against the non-existent threat of Andorra. Seven friendly matches against stronger opposition over the last 15 months have produced just one shut-out. No team can call itself a serious challenger with such a leaky defence, even if the World Cup odds do make them third favourites.

This explains the almost desperate selection policy adopted by the boss. Chronic injury concern Ledley King and the previously retired Jamie Carragher have been recalled to be standbys - and perhaps even starting alternatives - for Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Matthew Upson's poor form in both international and club colours have seen him slip down the pecking order. Anyone who has placed an England World Cup bet has every cause to be concerned.

The squad's final audition against Japan will therefore centre on the defence. The attacking places have virtually been settled, but the likes of Stephen Warnock, Michael Dawson and Scott Parker know they have a late chance to get on the plane to South Africa.