A testing week, but what have England learnt?
Monday 31 May 2010
So can we put those England weekend fitness concerns behind us now?
Not really, because yesterday was full of the kind of injury niggles which persist around the camp. Rio Ferdinand appeared to be labouring for a time in the second half yesterday, though he had apparently run off the problem by the end. Steven Gerrard was also limping after taking a blow to the ankle during his second-half display. Then the England manager, Fabio Capello, contributed to confusion about Gerrard's fitness by suggesting there had been a problem with his knee. Gerrard is also known to have had a problem with his calf, which needed physio on Friday. Capello also said that Gerrard's injury was "only a small problem", though the Liverpool captain was first off the pitch in the company of a team doctor. We will know tomorrow whether Gareth Barry will be fit to be play Algeria and Slovenia. Problems, problems.
Who will be feeling most aggrieved if he misses out on a place in the final 23?
Tom Huddlestone is a gentle individual, not inclined to feelings of bitterness, but there have been several semantic clues from Capello in the past 48 hours that he might miss out. First, Capello spoke positively about Michael Carrick on Saturday; then he said nothing anyone achieved against Japan had dissuaded him from his original notions about the final 23. Yet the quality of Huddlestone's distribution yesterday was far better than Carrick's had been against Mexico on Monday. The Tottenham player, whose passing was once compared by George Burley to Glenn Hoddle, seemingly needed to distribute at something like Hoddle's level to convince the England manager. It was a tall order.
What did yesterday's game tell us about the Jabulani ball which is to be used at the World Cup?
That it is seriously difficult to keep goal against and that long-range efforts are going to cause goalkeepers trouble. The Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima was the one to suffer yesterday, when a 20-yard free-kick from Frank Lampard dipped late and fooled him, causing him to spill the ball. England did not create opportunities to try more shots at range but Gerrard's technical ability with a dead ball will add to his value to Capello.
Should we be worrying about penalties after Frank Lampard's miss?
It doesn't settle the nerves to see Lampard missing two penalties in 15 days and the neurotics will be worried to know that two of the three players with a 100 per cent success rate in a penalty shoot-out practice at altitude in Irdning on Friday were Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson – neither of whom may make the 23-man squad – with John Terry being the third. Lampard, who received words of advice on this subject from Capello on Friday, scored four out of five against Joe Hart in the shoot-out and we should expect him to continue taking them. Capello has been very rigid in his instructions to his players, telling them to make their minds up where to place the ball before taking the kick, rather than attempting to respond to a goalkeeper. "I'll always want to take them and, though it wasn't a great penalty, it's disappointing because I've practised loads this week," Lampard explained last night. "I'm always confident in taking them and that will make me go away and work even harder now."
Is Fabio Capello going to spend the tournament with his mind on a move to Massimo Moratti's Internazionale?
The issue may well be cleared up with a conference call between Capello, in northern Italy, and the FA's new Club England team today, but there is historical evidence to suggest that Capello dislikes Moratti and that mere manoeuvring on the manager's part is keeping the story going. Capello has been approached by Moratti on at least four occasions in the past, most recently in April 2006 just before Italy's Calciopoli scandal ruined Juventus, whom Capello was managing. It came to nothing because Capello wanted a level of control Moratti would not provide. "He asked me lots of questions but then, just before the last week of the season, he told me he wasn't going to take things any further," Capello said in May 2008. "I think that Moratti secretly wants to manage the club himself."
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