IT IS hard to know what Fabio Capello is thinking at the best of times; that lived-in face betrays few emotions aside from rage. But if the inscrutable Italian already knows his 23 for the World Cup, and his favoured starting XI, he is doing a good job of hiding it. Monday’s lacklustre win over Mexico appeared to throw up more questions than it did answers, leaving the England manager with dilemmas throughout the team.
Rob Green has started the majority of England’s recent games, making his the man in possession of the shirt, and only enhanced his standing in 45 minutes against Mexico. So if Capello favours continuity above all, the West Ham stopper, 30, seems likely to start the tournament between the posts. But if experience is the most important factor then David James could yet reclaim his place, having shaken off injury worries and finished the season strongly. The Portsmouth veteran, 39, has 49 caps to Green’s 10, making him far more familiar with England’s likely back-four. Joe Hart, 23, for all his brilliant form last season, has only played 90 minutes of senior international football, and all in friendlies, and looks the outsider.
Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole look cast-iron certainties to start in South Africa – fitness permitting – leaving just the right-back spot in any doubt. Jamie Carragher, having been coxed out of self-imposed exile, had been tipped to go straight into the team for the opener against USA, if Capello, wary of Glen Johnson’s defensive failings, opted for safety first. But Johnson’s solid showing against Mexico, capped by an outstanding goal, have surely strengthened his case and all but cemented his place.
Capello’s willingness to give Gareth Barry extra time to prove his fitness seems to speak volumes for his faith in Michael Carrick, and after his display on Monday it is not hard to see why. James Milner also disappointed in the middle, meaning Tom Huddlestone could yet find himself in greater demand, the Tottenham man looking as though he is favoured over Scott Parker. On the right, it looks a straight shoot-out for a starting place between Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, with Shaun Wright-Phillips most likely to be disappointed.
Wayne Rooney is a nailed-on starter; the question is how Capello gets the best out of his mercurial striker. He proved a revelation as a lone marksman for United last season, dispelling doubts about his ability to operate alone, and could yet be asked to play the same way for England, with Gerrard in support. Yet Capello has preferred to use Rooney in a two-pronged attack, leaving Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe battling it out to be his partner.