Alan Pardew: Captain's example can take England to semis

In his first column for The Independent the West Ham manager argues that Eriksson's team will have a good tournament... but not as good as Brazil or France

For England this could be David Beckham's World Cup. He's a special talent, he's on top of his game and he's fit. In previous tournaments he's not done as well as he could have, for various reasons, and he's aware of that. Maybe things have conspired against him in the past but now, with the age he is and with the focus so much on Wayne Rooney, I believe it could be his time.

Make no mistake, Beckham is a special talent. And one who works incredibly hard. No one should fault his work-rate and his delivery is exceptional. And that will be crucial to England's goal threat. He always puts in his shift and you cannot always say that about other fantastic players of his talent. I just have a sneaky feeling he will be England's main man.

The key to England winning the World Cup is clean sheets. We are very strong defensively. Teams will find it difficult to score against us while we will always pose a threat at set-pieces. That is the strength of the team without Rooney. My view on him has been the same all along. I would take him even if he's only fit to play the last 20 minutes of the final. He's that special. It might cause dissent among some members of the squad but if you listen to the big players, the first-choice players, they all want him there. I'm talking about people like Beckham and Rio Ferdinand. They are desperate for Rooney to be included.

There is just no way that he could have been left out. Some have argued that case but not to involve him is simply absurd. In saying that I think the only part Rooney will play in the World Cup is as a sub. But what a sub to have.

Personally I would have taken a fifth striker anyway and sacrificed someone else, one of the midfielders, to have done so. I just feel the balance of the squad is a worry and there were clearly one or two outstanding candidates who could have gone and that would have given more options up front.

If Rooney can creep into the latter stages of the tournament then England have a good chance of winning it. But even then I still rate them no higher than third favourites. Brazil are clearly the most likely winners because of their firepower. Ronaldo will start the tournament but I have a slight doubt that he will finish it. I think he might have to be dropped for a more workman-like, defensively-minded midfield player if Brazil are to succeed.

Tactically they will be interesting. In their opening games they will play a box - with Ronaldo and Adriano in front of Kaka and Ronaldinho - and, from a coach's point of view, that will be an interesting variation. The World Cup always springs some innovation and I'll be looking out for that. It will work against the weaker nations but against the big hitters it may not be so easy. Then the coach will have a decision to make and their team may have to evolve, which often happens during tournaments just as Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley linked for England in 1986.

Over the years you keep hearing that Ronaldo comes alive when a big tournament comes alive. But he's a bit older now, less agile, a bit heavier. There's no doubt he's a world-class player in a team that creates a lot of chances but he may eventually have to miss out.

I also believe France have a really good chance. Thierry Henry is undoubtedly the best striker in the world and they have a team that has been there and done it, while the Marseilles winger Franck Ribéry is an exciting, young player who can tip the balance towards them being successful. It's good that they have someone breaking through like that and he could definitely be the one. The French have also got a good balance. If Patrick Vieira is injured then Alou Diarra, from Lens, can come in. He's an outstanding player and they have that kind of cover all over the pitch. France certainly have a lot going for them.

As for Germany, no one has made the point that they are trying to make history by becoming the first nation to win the World Cup twice as hosts. But I believe they are simply not good enough to do that and may go out as early as the last 16. If that happens it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the country, the people organising the tournament and working at it. A bit of fizz, a bit of edge may disappear. It could be a very different atmosphere.

With the outsiders, I have a feeling that the Ivory Coast, and Didier Drogba, can definitely inflict a lot of damage in Group C while, in Group E, the Czech Republic look a very strong team to me and should have a good tournament. Those two countries are in the two most difficult groups and it looks like the other groups are pretty much geared towards the top two seeds going through.

That makes it difficult to predict dark horses. Over the years we've been hearing that the United States are going to win it or an African nation will or that Australia will be a threat but, at the moment, I can't see that happening.

There may no longer be any "gimmes" in international football but in the World Cup the best players and best teams tend to come through. Maybe in Germany in 1974 the Netherlands deserved to win it but that's the exception. I'm certain the same names will appear in the semi-finals with maybe one outsider who has had a fantastic run. Hopefully England will be there, too.

Alan Pardew will be writing for The Independent throughout the World Cup. The fee for his column is being donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children

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