Cruellest cut is one Capello dreads

Telling tearful apprentices that they are being released is "far, far worse", according to Glenn Hoddle, than informing England squad players they are not going to a World Cup. That does not mean the latter task is easy, as he knows better than anyone.

At England's training camp in La Manga 12 years ago, he made appointments for 28 players at five-minute intervals and had to tell six of them they were going home rather than to France '98. Phil Neville was "very, very upset" and could not talk; Dion Dublin "took it like an adult"; Paul Gascoigne, who had been drowning his sorrows in advance, kicked a chair and smashed a lamp.

When Fabio Capello reduces a squad of 30 hopefuls to 23 tickets to ride at the end of May, there will be no individual interviews and he won't expect any histrionics, but he still admits: "It's not the best moment for me because all the players that will be with me are really good players." England will be preparing in Austria rather than Spain this time, based at altitude, as they will be in South Africa.

It may all seem some time away, yet the alarming truth is that Wednesday's uneven win over the African champions Egypt was the last game before Fifa's deadline (13 May) for naming a provisional squad. Up to 35 names are permitted at that stage but Capello will stick to 30. He admits to having all except "one centre-half" in his mind, which presumably means uncapped pair Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross are fighting Phil Jagielka for the last place.

Injury, as ever, is the great imponderable, but to the other 23 on duty last week might be added Ben Foster, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Aaron Lennon and whoever does best in the next two months out of Joe Cole, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor; the problem for the latter trio is that they play in oversubscribed positions, which was further complicated last week by Stewart Downing having been recalled ahead of his two Villa team-mates, and with Shaun Wright-Phillips doing so well as a substitute just when his star seemed to be on the wane. Darren Bent and Jermaine Jenas would also be among those left waiting for injuries elsewhere.

Then comes the truly hard part, when Capello does his Lord Sugar impersonation and tells seven World Cup apprentices: "You're fired."

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