Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
Trying to second guess Sven-Gordon
First of all let me apologise for being very
parochial, but this column is all about England.
Sven Goran Eriksson must be in a bit of a quandary
now. He has a full squad, overflowing with Champions
League regulars, that in the most part is fit and
raring to go. His side is still playing good football
and he can call on the services of a successful
Under-21 side should he need to. Yet he has had to
endure watching them struggle (and mainly lose)
through a long list of meaningless friendlies that
really don't tell us too much about what England are
going to do in Japan.
All England's recent friendlies have been messy,
disjointed affairs, full of substitutions and
formation changes. Eriksson has not even been able to
play his first choice side since the Germany game.
And it is not for the want of trying. His hands are
tied by an incredibly tight Premiership title race and
by English participation in the Champions League.
That clearly (rightly or wrongly) takes precedence
over his needs. For instance he has had to field
teams without a fully fit Michael Owen, David Beckham
or Steven Gerrard for far too long, and has had to try
out defenders and strikers on the troublesome left
side of midfield while first choices Kieron Dyer and
Nick Barmby sit injured and unavailable at home.
Perhaps because of this, he has decided to scrap most
of England's friendlies for the next three years, but
the fact that a more and more disinterested TV
watching public wants only to see competitive football
games has no doubt played a large part in prompting
his actions. Take the game against Paraguay for
example. While this game was live on TV, we could
also watch Ireland versus the USA, Scotland-Nigeria,
Germany-Argentina and Portugal against Brazil - all
live. Many chose the option of flicking between all
of these over watching ninety minutes from Anfield.
After all, we could see all these games (plus many,
many more) in highlight form less than an hour after
the final whistle anyway.
So is the end of the friendly in sight? No, not yet
anyway. Eriksson has already said he wants to keep
international fixtures in Autumn and Spring, to go
along with all the Euro 2004 qualifiers England are
going to play in the next 18-months. He is also
expecting these spare international weekends to be
used for formal squad training sessions. He is not
stupid. The team spirit he is trying to create
amongst his young, talented squad will help England
greatly as they reach maturity in Portugal and Germany
- as it is starting to do in time for Japan this
The picture of who is going to make up Eriksson's
23-man squad seemed to be getting clearer all the
time. Now it isn't. Wisely, Eriksson has not ruled
anyone out of his squad yet, and as he could still be
without the quality of Beckham and Campbell he must
make sure he keeps all his options open. Even though
this is true we can still see a likely squad forming,
and although there are still going to be surprises
between now and May I think the squad will end up
looking like this.
He has two definite goalkeepers, David Seaman and
Nigel Martyn, and David James will almost certainly be
on the plane with them. Seaman though will play in
all the games, if fit - if not, in comes Martyn.
Eriksson must actually wish he could take a sixth
striker or extra midfielder instead of James but he
cannot, so hard luck, and who knows, maybe Seaman
might break down again?
The defence is almost as decided as well. Two from
Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand will
play in the centre, and Gary Neville will retain his
right-back berth until he retires. On the left side
the recent form of Wayne Bridge has made Ashley Cole's
place look less secure. Both will go to Japan
however, as Cole can easily play further forward if
Dyer fails again. In the long run he may find himself
here anyway - especially if the prodigious Bridge
moves to a bigger club and develops into an even
better player. Completing the defence will be Martin
Keown, Jamie Carragher and possibly Danny Mills of
Leeds. If Eriksson takes all of them (and they do
provide covering options) then someone will lose out
in midfield, and old-stager Teddy Sheringham will
probably miss out in attack.
It is in midfield that Eriksson will feel he can hurt
the opposition. His first choice foursome picks
itself, with David Beckham on the right, Paul Scholes
and Stevie Gerrard in the middle and Kieron Dyer on
the left. Dyer has missed so much football in the
last two years that he will need to be covered both by
an attacker and a defender - he can offer a lot of
versatility to the squad. It is a shame then that he
so has far failed to capture his club form for
England. The two friendlies in Korea will make or
break his World Cup.
Two other midfielders guaranteed to go to Japan (but
less likely to start) are Joe Cole and Owen
Hargreaves. Cole is the current wonderboy of the
Premiership, capable of sheer brilliance and sheer ill
discipline in equal measure. He is the Gascoigne of
his generation, but unlike Gazza his ill discipline
does not extend beyond the pitch. For Cole 2002 may
be too soon - look for him at Euro 2004 and in Germany
More likely to play is Hargreaves of Bayern München, a
player Eriksson rates highly. Already a Champions
League winner, Hargreaves may well be playing for
Arsenal (as a replacement for Patrick Viera) before
too long, and he may well get his chance to impress as
the first change substitute this summer. The final
midfield places will either go to Trevor Sinclair
(unlikely, but possible as England have to take at
least two West Ham players to the World Cup!), Nicky
Butt or Danny Murphy. Whether one or two of these go
depends on how Eriksson decides to use his attackers.
Butt and Murphy are similar players, tenacious and
happy to work away without always being in the
limelight. Murphy though has a knack of getting
important goals in big games, and can hit a mean free
kick. He can also take the left side of midfield if
necessary and Eriksson rates him highly, so may just
get the nod. Butt though won many plaudits against
Paraguay and he would fee aggrieved to miss out on
Japan. Does that mean both then?
All these midfield choices cannot really be made until
Eriksson decides whether to take four or five
strikers. He is likely to take four, but given the
perilous injury record of Michael Owen he might go for
five. Therefore he would have to restrict his squad
to seven midfielders. Complications, complications,
In attack, European Footballer of the Year Owen will
start as undisputed number one for the first time in
his England career. There is no Alan Shearer around
anymore to lead the line - unfortunately - so Owen
will be needed even more. Eriksson likes to play Owen
and his Liverpool colleague Emile Heskey together, and
these two will start against Sweden. Heskey can be
used as a battering ram centre forward, or more
sensibly can play slightly wider, terrorising
full-backs with his pace and power. On his England
debut against Argentina in February 2000, Heskey
destroyed Nestor Sensini so directly that Sensini was
substituted in the first half. Against Italy, Heskey
seemed to have the beating of Alessandro Nesta,
especially when he could force him wide.
Unfortunately, Heskey is a player who blows hot and
cold in front of goal, and can have long spells were
he simply cannot score. Knowing this, Eriksson has
played Heskey in midfield, giving him the problematic
left side role to try out. This gives the squad
further options, but would require a third striker to
This will go to England's most gifted, most natural,
and most intelligent striker: Robbie Fowler. The only
problem is that when they both played for Liverpool,
Owen and Fowler just could not play together - they
ran into the same spaces, and both tried to create too
much for each other rather than take the chances
themselves. They are not that similar as players
(Owen fast and direct, Fowler more tricky and
ingenious) so why they failed to complement each other
is a mystery. However it led to Fowler joining Leeds,
while Owen partners Heskey and Nicolas Anelka for
Liverpool. This has seemed to relight Fowler's fire,
and his natural finishing is something Eriksson will
definitely take to Japan.
The final definite place will go to Teddy Sheringham
of Tottenham or Darius Vassell of Aston Villa, who
therefore fulfils the traditional role of an English
player coming from nowhere in the six months leading
up to the World Cup with Wayne Bridge (as Owen in
1998, Steve Bull and Paul Gascoigne in 1990, Peter
Beardsley in 1986 did before them). Vassell looked
international quality on his debut against Holland,
and scored an acrobatic goal, which always helps. But
against Italy he found the going much tougher, and
would have been the fifth and final striker, and lucky
to get a game, had he not turned on the talent again
against Paraguay. It is now Sheringham (darling of
the football press) that is sweating on selection.
Vassell has the pace to worry tiring defences.
Whether he has the guile to beat them is another
So the squad could eventually end up as:
Goalkeepers - Seaman; Martyn; James.
Defence - Gary Neville; Campbell; Ferdinand;
Southgate; Ashley Cole; Bridge; Carragher; Keown.
Midfield - Beckham; Scholes; Gerrard; Dyer; Joe Cole;
Hargreaves; Murphy; Butt.
Strikers - Owen; Heskey; Fowler; Vassell.
Which would be a decent enough group of players,
probably capable of going a very long way. Who
Eriksson is going to start with against Sweden is less
clear cut, but I would expect to see a 4-4-2 formation
of Seaman; Gary Neville, Campbell, Ferdinand, Bridge
(or Ashley Cole); Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Dyer (or
Butt); Owen and Heskey. Which is about as strong as
England can be at present.
Because of the daft way FIFA have drawn the teams,
France, England, and Argentina are drawn together
right from the very start, and at least on e of these
teams will go out before the end of the Second Round.
That is stupid, because they are probably as good as
anyone else in the international game at present, and
certainly currently better than Brazil, Germany and
Spain - all of whom should make the quarter-finals
Of course, according to FIFA England are only the
twelfth best team in the world, behind Colombia, the
Czech Republic and Mexico. It is about time FIFA
scrapped these stupid rankings (or made them at least
slightly realistic), and it is also about time England
fulfilled their overdue potential. I still don't
think England will win the tournament - their path is
too difficult and I am still sticking with Portugal
regardless of whether they lost at home to Finland or
not - but you get the idea England will win something
soon. And after 36 years, it is about time.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.