Fabio Capello retains a faint, fond hope that Wayne Bridge and John Terry may yet play together again for England; but, he said on Friday night, Terry will not wear the armband again while he is still manager. He did, however, claim that there was never any question of dropping the Chelsea captain, who he said is still a natural leader and has not lost the respect of other players.
Discussion of the two former friends and team-mates inevitably dominated Capello's media briefing in the run-up to Wednesday's friendly at home to Egypt. His opening point was the optimistic one that Bridge could yet change his mind after declaring on Thursday that being named in the squad would be "potentially divisive". "We have three months to change the decision," Capello said. "I opened the door to all players and now it is open in future for Wayne Bridge. Other players like [Jamie] Carragher have said no but if he changes his mind we'll leave the door open. For me, he can stay in the squad without problems." Asked if he agreed with Bridge that it was in the team's best interests he should withdraw, Capello answered: "No. It's [like an] injury now."
There are already enough of those to give him an inkling of the problems previous England managers have all faced going to major tournaments. This one, of course, has been self-inflicted, which makes it more frustrating than those to players such as Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand. All Capello can do is hope that Bridge will be encouraged to walk through that door by the promise that Terry will never be reinstated: "John Terry is a leader and will be [even] without the armband. I told him to be the same. I don't think the players have lost respect for him and the spirit will be the same. But from here to the World Cup he will not be the captain. And not while I'm England manager. I asked always the captain to set an example for young children and fans. I told him [that]. I spoke with him and was very happy because he understood everything. I hope this is the end of these stories. But I didn't ever consider taking him out [of the squad]."
Steven Gerrard will be captain on Wednesday, when Everton's Leighton Baines and Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock (assuming he avoids injury in today's Carling Cup final) will be given the chance to compete for a place in South Africa. Whoever wins it will have a dull trip if Cole proves to be fully fit; Bridge has been to two World Cups and one European Championship as reserve left-back and played a less than grand 15 minutes as a substitute, which may partly have influenced his decision.
While Ferdinand remains hors de combat with his worrying back problems there is also a vacancy for a centre-half; last night Capello was contemplating whether to pick Baines' team-mate Phil Jagielka, who has just returned to the Everton side, or offer some experience to one of the younger brigade.
England's options in midfield are abundant enough to spell trouble for Joe Cole, whom Capello was disap- pointed to see passed over in favour of Salomon Kalou when he watched Chelsea play at the San Siro in midweek.
There were no words of comfort for Cole either. "It is not a good moment for him. I saw every game he played but there are some problems for him because he is not back like the player I remember."
For Theo Walcott, one of the numerous other players chasing too few wide positions in the squad, the message was: "He is not in a fantastic moment. He needs to recover confidence but I saw his last game and he played very well. I think he's getting better and better and he needs to play with the seniors not the Under-21s."
David Beckham, a different sort of player but still a rival to Walcott, impressed Capello more than most observers for Milan against Manchester United. "For me Beckham played well in another [central] midfield position. He is really dangerous when he stays wide and can cross but in 4-3-3 he can play in this position."
Wayne Rooney will doubtless cause Capello to wince every time he is tackled from now until the opening World Cup game against the United States on 12 June. He was compared favourably to more obvious contenders to be considered the best player in the world because of his work-rate. "When Manchester United lost against Everton, he played not so well, losing a lot of balls, but this season he has improved a lot. The difference to [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, he presses a lot, runs a lot. When I meet [Italy's Marcello] Lippi or [Spain's Vicente] del Bosque, they all say we have a fantastic player."
With Algeria also in their summer group, England deliberately chose north African opposition (and, for experience, a South American referee) for Wednesday, when Egypt will be making their Wembley debut after completing an impressive hat-trick of African championships.
They will not be at the World Cup, having lost a dramatic play-off to the Algerians, who they then beat 4-0 in Angola. It will be the 15th time that England have met an African country, having won 12 and drawn two of the previous ones; the closest shave coming when substitute Steve Bull equalised in the last minute for Bobby Robson's men against Tunisia prior to the 1990 World Cup. One day there will be a defeat, but it will be a setback should that occur this week.
Four with a point to prove
Joe Hart (1 cap) Impressive in goal for England Under-21s at the European Championship last summer and sensibly moved to Birmingham in order to play more games. Little chance to impress Capello at Fulham last weekend but has earned his opportunity and must grasp it to confirm he is one of the top three goalkeepers who will go to South Africa.
Matthew Upson (19 caps) Will reach 20 caps this week thanks to the frequent absences of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry but he has still not been entirely convincing at international level. Seems certain to go to the World Cup and needs to demonstrate that he can stand up to the world's leading strikers.
Leighton Baines (0 caps) and Stephen Warnock (1 cap) Ashley Cole's injury and Wayne Bridge's withdrawal mean that there could well be two squad places up for grabs if Cole's recovery does not run smoothly. Warnock has slightly more international experience but Baines has possibly been in the better form of the two recently.
Theo Walcott (8 caps) Seemed nailed on for a regular place once he exploded into international football with his hat-trick in Croatia almost 18 months ago but he has not played for England so far this season. Capello believes that since his shoulder injuries he lacks one of a winger's prime requirements: confidence.
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