by Murad Ahmed - 04/15/2006
Get more World Cup betting information including betting bonuses, World Cup odds and our famous World Cup picks, which in 2006 earned $100 bettors over ten times their initial investment. ($100 bettors earned $1,820 click here for details)
A glance at the England's team sheet should be intimidating for everyone other than the very best teams attending this summer's World Cup finals. It is a team stacked with world-class performers. In defense, John Terry of Chelsea is a colossus. The midfield is rammed with top-drawer talent. Frank Lampard, also of Chelsea, was voted the world's second best player last season. The third best was Steven Gerrard, after he dragged his club side, Liverpool, from mediocrity to a Champions League victory. David Beckham of Real Madrid, at his best, remains a force of nature. In attack, Michael Owen remains one of the world's deadliest goal poachers.
However, the team cannot contemplate victory in Germany without the jewel in their crown - Wayne Rooney.
Every team with a shot to win in Germany will have one great player who can rise above the rest and elevate their team beyond the reach of their competitors. Potentially, Ronaldinho can do it for Brazil, Thierry Henry can do it for France and Juan Roman Riquelme can do it for Argentina. A look at the World Cup history books shows there's always one outstanding player who deserves to hold the World Cup a little longer than his teammates. It was Ronaldo in 2002, Zidane in 1998. Maradona in 1986 and Pele in 1970. Can Rooney be that man for England?
England certainly thinks so. After a particularly barnstorming performance last year, the traditionally cool Sven Goran Eriksson - the Swedish coach of England - got overexcited and compared Rooney to the Brazilian legend, Pele. Of course, any comparison to Pele seems ridiculous but Rooney's attributes suggest that such talk isn't completely gaga.
The 20 year-old has extraordinary power and strength, able to hold off the burliest of defenders. His skill and touch on the ball is unquestioned, his finishing and passing superb. But it's his soccer brain that is a wonder to watch - just like hyper-talented quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Payton Manning - Rooney picks passes, sees plays unfold and executes them and he picks up positions and space with an unnatural ease. This ability marks out the very good players from the great - and Rooney has it. In effect, England's hopes rely on a fit and on-fire Wayne Rooney. Anything below that, and England's progress is likely to end as it always does, somewhere in the later stages of the competition to a superior team - often on penalties.
So England has the quality personnel required for the World Cup battle, but having a load of individual superstars does not make a team - as the galacticos of Real Madrid have shown in recent years. There remains a question as to whether England's players are too good to play together.
That might sound counter-intuitive, but the problem is epitomised in the centre of England's midfield and the case of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. It's undoubted that these two players - captains and the outstanding player of their respective club teams - are the two best central midfielders in England. But both play an attacking role and against quality opposition the centre of midfield needs a solely defensive-minded player. Both Lampard and Gerrard can make a tackle or ten - but you need a guy who's willing to sacrifice any dream of playing football to sit in that defensive position and be an enforcer. It may mean that the crowd won't sing your name, but you'll be your manager's favourite player. With the abilities of Lampard and Gerrard -- and probably their egos -- it's still unclear if either can demote themselves to this role, and as a result, it's unclear if they can play together.
If that's a problem that seems solvable, England's major weakness over the last decade has been not having a left-sided midfielder who could actually kick the ball with his left foot. At the moment, the super-skilful Joe Cole is filling the position, but he's right-footed, and the feeling remains that without a left-footer, the midfield will remain unbalanced. And there are major question marks over David Beckham. Will his ego and past glories allow him to become more disciplined and stick to his position on the right of midfield? Is his decline real or just reported?
England's lackluster performances in its World Cup qualifying group has not answered these questions. They won the group at a canter because they were simply too good for the likes of Poland, Austria and Wales. But they still managed to lose to Northern Ireland, 1-0 -- a humiliating result. However, since then England beat a terrific Argentina side, 3-2, in a pulsating friendly match in Geneva. The team is mocked in the English press as being as dull as their Swedish coach. The reality is that England is unpredictable, and can produce the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure.
So can England win the World Cup? Yes. And their position as second-favorites behind Brazil is warranted and realistic. Whether England actually wins depends on the undoubted talent of their players gelling into one unit, and one young man - Wayne Rooney - setting the world's biggest stage alight.