Question time for Capello
Graz may be a fitting venue for England's last game before the World Cup. Selected for its proximity to the training camp at Irdning, which allows Fabio Capello's team to acclimatise to altitude, it used to be the home city of an Austrian bodybuilder who grew up - if that is the appropriate phrase - to become the Governor of California.
In comparison, Capello's task - turning 30 into 23 - appears easier. Although the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium has been renamed, rather less memorably, the UPC-Arena, Capello's first job is to become a Terminator and end the World Cup hopes of seven players. But the importance of England's final friendly, against Japan, goes beyond that. He has 90 minutes to try and find answers to questions that are emerging or recurring.
Who is Gareth Barry's deputy? The Manchester City midfielder's ankle problem means he is unlikely to be fit for the start of the World Cup. Michael Carrick failed his audition as the holding midfielder against Mexico on Monday. The choice between Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker is a passer against a tackler. The Spurs man starts today, giving him the greater chance to stake a claim. Who starts in goal?
Robert Green excelled in the first half to thwart the Mexican attack and has been the regular choice. But Joe Hart was voted a member of the PFA Team of the Year while David James displayed his prowess in the FA Cup final. However, an undistinguished season, inexperience and injuries respectively count against the three keepers. Where does Jamie Carragher play? The Liverpool vice-captain returned from international exile as a centre-back but he seemed selected for the squad as a more defensive alternative to Glen Johnson, his club colleague, at right-back. If that is Capello's plan, it may be an idea to bring Carragher on as a full-back today.
Is Emile Heskey still involved? On form, the Aston Villa striker would be nowhere near the squad. Selection is a reward for his service in qualifying but he was an unused substitute against Mexico. Heskey was never picked for his goals, but England require an impact if he is to play. Should Wayne Rooney play alone up front? Heskey becomes less of an issue and England can pick another midfielder if Rooney replicates his Manchester United role and operates as the sole striker. However, the forward, who has only scored once in his last seven matches for England, has been at his most prolific for Capello in the hole behind the target man.
And what does it mean for Steven Gerrard? Gerrard's versatility is both a blessing and a curse. He could play behind Rooney if the latter leads the line; he added solidity to the centre of midfield in the second half against Mexico. But he has prospered under Capello with a licence to roam from a starting position on the left. Joe Cole or Adam Johnson? There appears one place left in the squad for a player who can operate on the left. Johnson sparkled in a five-minute cameo on Monday. Cole has not appeared for Capello for 20 months. Neither begins today, so theirs will be a brief opportunity to impress.
Theo Walcott or Aaron Lennon? Both should be in the squad and both begin today's game. The question is who is the best option on the right flank? Walcott was wasteful in the final third against Mexico. Lennon offered more incision in his late cameo. Leighton Baines or Stephen Warnock? The job description is Ashley Cole's understudy and the winner might not take the field in the World Cup. Baines is the favourite, but was the subject of some criticism for his display on Monday. Warnock is the outsider.
Does Darren Bent have a role? Capello has rarely appeared a fan of the Sunderland striker, but his haul of 24 goals in the Premier League has made him hard to ignore. However, injury deprived Bent of a chance against Mexico. He appears fifth in the striking pecking order - and probably only four forwards will go to South Africa, but he partners Rooney today. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: May 30, 2010 04:00 AM