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OPINION England are not world-beaters yet

Tuesday 11th June 2002

By Simon Kuper

England can win the World Cup - it is that sort of World Cup - but let's not pretend they have suddenly become a great team. They deserved to beat Argentina, and will surely get past Nigeria, but the weaknesses revealed over seasons past have not suddenly disappeared.

The players know this. A remarkably serene Teddy Sheringham told journalists after the Argentina game "I know everyone's going to get carried away in England with this result."

And they have. Whenever England win a big match, particularly against Argentina, the British media produces the sort of dripping sentiment more appropriate to military victory. The players become 'heroes' and to criticise them is treason.

Yes, David Seaman kept well against Argentina. But to cast him as a latter-day Gordon Banks is silly. After the Argentina game, a journalist working on his 'Seaman Hero' story asked the keeper's Arsenal team-mate Ashley Cole whether this was the best he had ever seen the old man keep. "No!" Cole snorted. "Obviously for Arsenal I've seen him play much better."

A younger, more agile keeper might have saved the long-range shot that produced Sweden's goal: think of some of the astonishing saves made in this competition. And one good game does not transform a 38-year-old. Anyone who has watched Arsenal much in recent years has to be sceptical of Seaman.

England's defensive display against Argentina was probably their best since the 0-0 against Italy in Rome in 1997. However, Danny Mills has not become an international player in a week. Sol Campbell is another liability. He has never fulfilled the promise he showed as a young man at the last World Cup. He probably stayed too long at Tottenham, a place where he didn't need improve to remain a hero (until he left for Arsenal).

Whereas Rio Ferdinand is starting to play like Alessandro Nesta, Campbell beside him looks like a giant English centre-half who cannot pass out of defence. Mind you, Ferdinand and Cole can, which makes two England defenders more than usual.

Nor can a 1-0 victory on a penalty disguise England's lack of a left-sided midfielder. Sven-Goran Eriksson - who, to his credit, is not bathing in the euphoria as Kevin Keegan would have - has been castigated for playing right-footed players on the left. But what else is he to do? Where is the left-footed midfielder even remotely near international class who has been omitted?

At right-half, David Beckham has yet to recover from injury. Just because the man out there looks like Beckham does not mean that he is Beckham. Being captain and converting a penalty (and had Pablo Cavallero dived the right way he would have swallowed it) should not have earned him rave notices.

Conversely, just because Nicky Butt played like Beckham on Friday night does not mean that he is Beckham. It is a common fallacy to believe that a player playing a blinder is revealing his quality. Having watched Butt for years, we know that against Argentina he played above himself. Paul Scholes, though, does seem to be returning to his form of a couple of years ago.

The other problem is that there are almost no other walking midfielders. The excellent Owen Hargreaves limped off in Sapporo and may not be back, Kieron Dyer is not fit and was only taken to Japan as a desperation measure, and Trevor Sinclair, who was never supposed to be here, is now suddenly a regular.

"We're all right now: Sinclair's on," joked someone sitting behind me when the winger appeared in Sapporo. In the event Sinclair had an excellent game. But he is still the same man who plays for West Ham.

Up front, England rely on one man. Eriksson must be praying at his local Shinto shrine every morning that Michael Owen does not get injured (something that has been known to happen). Emile Heskey does not look a player for this level, and Sheringham is 36. It might be worth giving Robbie Fowler yet another chance.

If you believe England are going to win the World Cup simply because they have beaten one of the favourites, you have to believe that Senegal, Croatia and Denmark will win it too. Every English football fan should know all this, but even foreigners are getting carried away on the tide of hype.

A middle-aged Japanese woman, a World Cup volunteer, told me at Haneda Airport the other day: "All the England players are very handsome."

"What, Danny Mills?" I asked. She looked blank. "They are all very handsome," she repeated.

You might as well say they are all great footballers.

onefootball
 

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England ? not a chance... well maybe if they start playing football using their hands :D no offense though ...
 

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you've got to be in it to win it, just ask France and Argentina.:D
 
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