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May 11, 2010

Capello left to decide upon seven

By Dale Johnson
(Archive)

If Fabio Capello's aim was to raise a few eyebrows with his England squad announcement he certainly achieved that.

• Capello springs squad surprises

Spurs defender Ledley King
GettyImages / MikeHewitt.Ledley King played himself into the squad

Most of the names had been bandied about by the press over the last few days, so much so that it was more of a surprise that Owen Hargreaves, after his 30 seconds of football in 20 months, wasn't named as back-up to Gareth Barry.

Capello must trim the squad by seven by June 1, and while most of the places will have already been decided, there is still the chance for those on the fringes of the 23 to push their case in the friendlies against Mexico and Japan.

Six Spurs players make the squad, recognition of the club's policy of buying quality, emerging English talent over the past few years, which has resulted in a place in next season's Champions League. Tom Huddlestone, steady performer though he is, will surely only travel to South Africa should Gareth Barry fail to prove his fitness after suffering an ankle injury.

And the same goes for Scott Parker, a tigerish midfielder but one who comes with a disciplinary record which would have international referees with notebook at the ready. A starter as part of Steve McClaren's disastrous 3-5-2 in the defeat in Croatia in ... qualifying for Euro 2008, his stock has recovered but he will surely miss out in the end.

It should be remembered that Capello can choose to name Barry in the 23 as injured players can be replaced until the day before England's first game against the United States on June 12. For that reason Barry would have to be behind schedule not to be in the final party. Don't be surprised if Huddlestone, or Parker, remain with the squad until the last moment.

The goalkeeping selection is as expected, though it remains the case that there is no stand-out number one.

While some may question the inclusion of Ledley King due to his inability to train, his outstanding performances in the last week of the season, when he played three games in eight days, made it impossible to leave him at home. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp may have lambasted Capello when he selected King for the friendly with Slovakia and the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine in March 2009, but now it is a different story. It's universally accepted that King must be on the plane.

With three left-backs in the 30 there's a straight fight between Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock, and the Everton defender must take that place not only due to his superior ability on set-pieces but simply because he is the better player of the two. It's a great comeback for a player derided when he first moved to Goodison Park and was unable to get into the Toffees' side.

Fitness concerns could force Capello to take nine defenders, with King and Rio Ferdinand risky selections, but that appears unlikely. That means the fourth central defensive slot goes to either Matthew Upson or Michael Dawson. It will be harsh on Upson, given that he played most of England's qualifying campaign with either John Terry or Ferdinand absent. That said, a World Cup has no room for sentiment and Dawson has been superb since Christmas while Upson has floundered.

Adam Johnson, Manchester City
GettyImagesAdam Johnson: Joined City from Boro

Five strikers have been named, but with Steven Gerrard able to operate behind a lone striker in a crisis, as he does for Liverpool, there is no need to take all of them. Darren Bent's name sticks out like a sore thumb, mainly because Capello has appeared to not rate the Sunderland forward despite plundering 24 Premier League goals this season. With 74 top flight goals in the last five seasons, two of which when he was a misfit at Spurs, only Wayne Rooney (80) can boast a better return. By comparison, Jermain Defoe has scored 59 times.

Despite Bent's free-scoring ways, his anonymous display against, granted, Brazil in Qatar must play on Capello's mind. Heskey's robust style, while not goal-bearing, is likely to see him included while Peter Croch is proven at international level and then there's Wayne Rooney.

Defoe has been woeful over the last couple of months but is that enough for Capello to turn his back and select Bent? Perhaps not, though they may fire it out in the friendlies.

And that's the situation which also befalls the remaining midfielders, though it is unlikely that Shaun Wright-Phillips will get the game time to force his way into the squad: so it's a straight fight between Joe Cole and Adam Johnson for the final place. It's a clash of options for Capello. In Cole he has a midfielder who has barely played for Chelsea since returning from a serious injury and it is far from certain he is fully match fit. But he brings with him a wealth of international experience, which includes two World Cup finals and Euro 2004. He would be the safe option, a player able to offer something completely different to that of the rest of midfield.

Then there's the new kid on the block, a player who had seldom played for Middlesbrough until he tore apart the Championship in the first half of this term and earned a move to Manchester City in January. Initially it was thought he would be a bench player at City but, as Wright-Phillips can testify, he soon made a place in City's expensively-assembled squad his own.

It could be argued that Johnson could bring to the table what Beckham would have done: pinpoint crossing from either flank and superb set-piece delivery. Add to that he is actually mobile, can beat a man and has a bit of trickery about him and surely you have an international player for years to come. But is that for now, a player who, like Dawson, is one of two players yet to make his international bow.

He would be an unknown quantity, and such an option late in the game could be better than a half-fit Cole.

Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon will certainly go, due to their searing pace, though the inclusion of Walcott will not be without concerns due to his poor form for Arsenal while Lennon must still prove his recovery from a groin injury.

POSSIBLE FINAL 23

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green

Defenders: Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole, Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, John Terry,

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson

Forwards: Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney

Left at home: Stephen Warnock, Matthew Upson, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker, Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Darren Bent