By Ben Pearce
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
TOTTENHAM took on Mexico at Wembley on Monday evening as Fabio Capello prepares to name the Spurs stars who will represent England at this summer’s World Cup.
Ledley King, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon were all in action for the Three Lions, helped by a supporting cast of ringers from other Premier League clubs.
And, as the dust settled on their 3-1 win – due in no small part to goals from King and Crouch – Capello was left to ponder how he would cut his 30-man provisional party down to the final squad of 23 before next Tuesday.
The Italian will see one more audition before his announcement, as England take on Japan in Graz, Austria this Sunday lunchtime.
And, having been an unused substitute at Wembley, Spurs’ Michael Dawson won’t be the only one hoping for one last chance to impress.
Here, we look at Tottenham’s six representatives in England’s provisional 30-man squad, and weights up their chances of making the final cut.
A HALF-TIME substitute on Monday night, he had a fairly quiet game – as he has done in most of his recent outings.
Over the season as a whole, Defoe had his best ever campaign, scoring 24 goals, more than ever before, and 11 more than Crouch.
However, the 27-year-old has gone off the boil at the worst possible time from an England point of view, and his only goal in his last nine appearances came from the penalty spot against Chelsea.
The last time Defoe hit the net from open play was the 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on March 13, and the Tottenham striker never looked likely to score against Mexico.
Defoe narrowly failed to reach a Ledley King through-ball as Mexico keeper Oscar Perez scurried off his line to clear, but that was his only sniff of goal. Otherwise the bulk of his work was done in deeper areas.
In fairness he did well, proving that he can link up with England’s star players and play his part in quick, flowing moves. But that is not really his job, for England or Spurs, and his goalless spell is doing him no favours.
Capello may have preferred Defoe to Darren Bent all through the season, but form and confidence are particularly important for strikers, and Defoe has failed to kill the contest off.
Capello will keep four of his provisional five strikers for the World Cup, and is sure to keep Rooney, Crouch and probably Heskey - leaving Defoe and Bent.
The Tottenham man should get the nod once again, but Capello may give Bent one more chance against Japan. Whatever happens, the manager’s decision is harder than it needed to be and Defoe is sweating on his place.
ANOTHER goal, an assist for Ledley King and, after dominating the skies once again, further evidence that England’s opponents haven’t got a clue how to handle the 6ft 7ins striker.
The 29-year-old has now struck 21 times in 38 appearances for the Three Lions, and is a certainty to be on the plane for South Africa. The only question is whether he will start against the US on Saturday June 12.
Capello believes that Emile Heskey is a better partner for Wayne Rooney, but there is little doubt that Crouch is the better forward, and will be more likely to hit the net if a chance falls to him in South Africa.
BY his own admission, his performance at Wembley was far from his best. The Spurs captain may have scored, but Capello will not be blinded by one unmarked header from six yards.
The 29-year-old was turned a couple of times and was undone by a simple through ball, needing Robert Green to bail him out on more than one occasion.
The worry is that Mexico striker Guillermo Franco is far from the most challenging international striker - that’s why he plays for West Ham.
This shaky display is understandable from a player who had not made an international appearance for three years, but this is not the time for those kind of excuses.
Capello probably picked King in part to test his knee, but the Italian may have ended up with concerns over the Spurs man’s defending at the top level.
King’s stock has risen immeasurably in recent weeks, and deservedly so, but he probably took a small step backwards on Monday night.
Tottenham’s captain should still go to South Africa – he is certainly ahead of Dawson in the pecking order, and possibly Upson too.
However, he is unlikely to start unless Terry or Ferdinand are injured, and even then he will face stern competition.
IF there were any doubts about Lennon’s place in the squad, that searing burst in the 89th-minute has probably booked his seat on the plane.
The 23-year-old was Capello’s first choice on the right wing before his injury at the end of 2009, but on Monday night he reminded the Three Lions boss what he can do – scare international defenders to death.
The Spurs man will hope to get a lengthier run-out against Japan but, since Shaun Wright-Phillips was left on the bench at Wembley, Lennon and Theo Walcott now look like the top two choices on the right flank.
One of them will start, the other is likely to be the ace in the hole – the impact sub who terrorises tired defences. And it is certainly not clear, or even decided, which will be which.
HUDDLESTONE’S fortunes are heavily linked to Gareth Barry’s. The Manchester City man – Capello’s first-choice holding midfielder – limped out of his side’s 1-0 defeat to Spurs at Eastlands at the end of the season.
Barry has been given until deadline day, June 1, to prove his fitness and the results will have a big bearing on whether Huddlestone goes to the World Cup.
Capello will risk taking Barry if he is likely to make the bench against the USA. But, whatever happens, most of England’s provisional central midfielders will go to South Africa.
Given that Steven Gerrard will ideally start on the left of midfield, Frank Lampard and James Milner are the only central midfielders who are assured of a place – and Milner can also play on the flanks.
Capello is therefore likely to pick two from Barry, Michael Carrick, Huddlestone and Scott Parker, and his decisions on Monday night could be telling.
Carrick started and played 62 minutes, while Huddlestone came off the bench and Parker was left in the dug-out. That could well be Capello’s pecking order, and it would make sense.
Carrick has 22 England caps and, although he did not impress against Mexico, he has played plenty of Champions League football and is easily the most experienced.
Huddlestone, meanwhile, has had an excellent season and proved his worth in the victories over Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City, but he is new to the England set-up with just two caps.
He seems to be ahead of Parker but behind Carrick, and obviously Barry. If Capello does indeed take two from four, Barry’s fitness is the deciding factor.
THE fact that the 26-year-old defender didn’t make it onto the pitch against Mexico is certainly not encouraging.
Capello will take John Terry, captain Rio Ferdinand and probably King, while Jamie Carragher – who can fill in at centre-back or right-back – is a perfect squad man for the tournament.
Given that Terry, Ferdinand and King have all had injury problems, Capello is sure to take a fourth specialist centre-back, and that leaves Dawson in a head-to-head tussle with Matthew Upson. Unfortunately, he is likely to lose.
Dawson has had the better season and he goes into the summer in better form, but his lack of experience will count heavily against him.
Upson has 19 England caps and has played four times under Capello in the last year, including the World Cup qualifier against Croatia.
That may have been back in September 2009, and the fact that Upson was also omitted on Monday night suggests he has fallen down the pecking order – but not below Dawson.
Having repeatedly selected the West Ham defender during his tenure, and indeed put him on the field, it would be very strange if Capello suddenly replaced him with someone who has never played at international level.