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Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Capello looking at final choices for World Cup lineup


LONDON — England has the rare luxury of playing a World Cup tie away to Ukraine on Saturday with defeat meaning nothing in terms of qualification because Fabio Capello's team has already secured its place in South Africa next summer.

Christopher Davies

As Ukraine is challenging Croatia for a place in the playoffs, the Italian will be aware that for sporting fair play he should not experiment too much with his lineup and leave himself open to accusations of fielding a weakened team.

While it is a good opportunity to look at younger players such as Aston Villa midfielder James Milner, if all his current squad is fit Capello probably knows nine of his lineup for the opening match in South Africa.

The two positions causing the manager concern, for different reasons, are goalkeeper and right midfield.

We can expect: Johnson (Liverpool), Terry (Chelsea), Ferdinand (Man Utd), A. Cole (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), Barry (Man City), Rooney (Man Utd), Heskey (A. Villa).

Capello has worryingly limited options in goal but in contrast is spoiled for choice on the right wing. Portsmouth's David James was Capello's goalkeeper for his first 13 games in charge but now 39, the veteran has been hit by injuries while the sands of time are inevitably catching up with him.

West Ham's Robert Green has played in the last five games and while he has done little wrong he is not a goalkeeper of true international class.

Manchester United's Ben Foster has had a chance to show what he can do in the absence of Edwin van der Sar, who broke a bone in his hand during the preseason. Some high-profile errors by Foster means the Dutchman will return when fit, probably next weekend and Capello will not select a reserve goalkeeper for the World Cup.

Blackburn's Paul Robinson has slipped down the pecking order, while Birmingham's Joe Hart, called up for the Ukraine game, has yet to win a senior cap.

As the countdown to the World Cup finals begins Capello has to cross his fingers and hope for the best. The England goalkeeping cupboard, which once boasted Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence and David Seaman, is virtually bare.

Against this, Capello can choose from Aaron Lennon (Spurs), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Man City) and David Beckham for the right midfield role.

Lennon is the player in form and if his crossing ever matches his pace he will be a phenomenal winger. The Spurs player is improving steadily and has taken the opportunity offered by Walcott's long absence through injury.

Walcott is the only player to score a hat trick in Capello's reign, when England thumped Croatia 4-1 in Zagreb 13 months ago. It was a stunning display by the 20-year-old but two long-term injuries have restricted his progress. Fit again, the Arsenal flyer is aiming to show he is ready to take his place in the side again, though Wright-Phillips' cause is helped by playing in an exciting and potentially successful City team.

Beckham does not have the pace of the younger trio but Capello sees him as a wise old head to bring on to close down a game. Or maybe win it with a trademark free kick.

South Africa would be Beckham's fourth World Cup, equaling an England record. Sir Bobby Charlton is the only player named to four England World Cup squads, but he did not play on the first occasion, at the 1958 tournament, so Beckham has the chance to make history in South Africa.

It's amazing that Beckham, who has won an outfield record 114 caps for England, still has his critics.

* * * * *

THE FOOTBALL Association's disciplinary system ground into action this week with all the threat of a butterfly after Sir Alex Ferguson claimed referee Alan Wiley wasn't fit enough when he patrolled Manchester United's 2-2 draw against Sunderland.

ProZone, the system, which calculates how far a referee runs during a game, shot down Ferguson's allegations.

So what did the F.A. do?

It wrote to Ferguson to ask him to explain his comments. He had said that Wiley wasn't fit — what on earth needed explaining?

Let's suppose the F.A. charges Ferguson and he is found guilty of misconduct.

What punishment can he expect?

A fine which the club will probably pay and a two-game touchline ban which basically means the United manager sitting four rows back from his usual place in the United dugout.

Well, that will teach him a lesson won't it?

Ferguson will never criticize another referee after such an excessive punishment.

Why does the F.A. even bother with any disciplinary process when all it does is slap managers across the wrist with a lettuce leaf?

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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