There's a masochistic tendency in England -- perhaps you've noticed -- to approach things like World Cups by talking ourselves into believing that this time our brave lads will go all the way. Somehow, their repeated failure to do so since 1966 is one of the reasons for our confidence, suggesting a sloppy but enthusiastic appreciation for the law of averages. For all that was said about the "golden generation," these have been 44 years of overexpecting as much as underachieving.
Despite an unspoken collective decision not to get carried away again, the World Cup draw earlier this year prompted unbridled positivity. USA? Algeria? Slovenia?
It is perhaps a reflection of the faith that
Among the 30 names announced by Capello for his preliminary squad, however, there are one or two to spark dissent, not least Capello's attempts to draw out of retirement Liverpool defender
The trouble is that chasing old faces doesn't match the progressive mood we've come to expect under Capello, who has shown a welcome readiness to give young or previously overlooked players a chance. This provisional squad includes a number of popular choices --
In fairness, the list is a reasonably measured attempt to mitigate injury concerns. It's likely we'll see England turn out in a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, and Capello has said he would like his final squad to include two specialists in each position, plus three goalkeepers. For his willingness to bring in new men, he has always talked up the importance of experience; in the circumstances, he will struggle to keep his word on only selecting fully fit and in-form players.
In goal, Blackburn manager
There's no doubting that
Backup for the central defensive area would be a less pressing issue if Capello's main picks weren't hampered by injury concerns.
Still, of the five named, it's likely that one of the two fittest, Dawson and
There are 12 midfielders on the list, including five wingers. On the right,
That could be bad news for
Able to play on either side, he and Lennon, who can also play in the left, make a tantalizing pair.
Which leaves a fight between the last three for perhaps one spot. Carrick and Huddlestone are most comparable: neither is the world's greatest tackler, but both seem able to slow time when they have the ball, enabling them to identify the best recipient further up the pitch. But the manager promised not to pick players on reputation, and Carrick's selection has a hint of that about it after a muted season.
That's not to say, though, that Huddlestone makes a better pick for such a crucial run of games, no matter how well he has filled the role at Spurs. Parker could be the one to benefit. The West Ham captain shows more terrier-like commitment than any other and is an old-fashioned box-to-boxer. He has the most to prove in the next few weeks, but potentially the most to gain.
Up front, Capello has named five -- six, if you include Walcott, who's adaptable to the role -- and they pose more questions than his defensive picks. A niggling groin injury wouldn't and shouldn't stop
And then there's
Comparisons between then and now are fraught with danger and incongruity, but any reservations must be tempered a little by that memory. Capello's 30 is conservative, but also a reminder that he lacks a depth of choice unless he's to follow
Goalkeepers: Robert Green (West Ham United), Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham United), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa)
Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Tom Huddlestone (Tottenham Hotspur), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur), James Milner (Aston Villa), Scott Parker (West Ham), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)
Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).