Desperate for the X-factor

Desperate for the X-factor

Team in focus England

Desperate for the X-factor

Wayne’s world: Wayne Rooney will have to reproduce his Manchester United form if England are to be in serious contention at the World Cup. APEngland are blessed with two world-class central midfielders in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and though they have often failed to flourish in the same team, Fabio Capello seems to have developed a system where they can both make major contributions.

Where things start to get interesting is in the wide positions, especially on the right, where David Beckham's only role in South Africa after a career of selfless contribution in the position will be as a coaching assistant.

Capello has included Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joe Cole and uncapped Adam Johnson in his provisional 30-man squad and though it is highly unlikely they will all make the cut, three of them probably will.

If England are to deliver on Capello's target of reaching the final for the first time since 1966, then one or more of them is likely to have to deliver a career-defining run of performances.

The good news for the manager is that, on their day, all are fully capable of shredding the best defences. The bad news is that, partly due to injuries, few have given much indication this season that they are about to do so.

Walcott probably travels as favourite to start thanks to his memorable hat-trick in a command performance when England thrashed Croatia 5-1 away in qualifying in 2008.
Still only 21 but a veteran of the 2006 World Cup when he did not play a minute, Walcott has pace and directness and can also play as a second striker.

However, he struggled to make an impact at Arsenal in a season wrecked by a variety of injuries, and remains a long way from the finished article.Razor-fast Lennon is a real old-school winger who delights in leaving fullbacks for dead but all-too-often does not deliver a telling cross. He too has missed large parts of the season but if fit and firing he can be almost impossible to defend against and Capello knows that either man can be a potent weapon.

Ferguson warning

Tiredness could be decisive
NEW YORK, Reuters: England's bid for glory at the World Cup will be hurt by the exhaustion of their players after a long season of fast-paced Premier League football, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said.

"The intensity of the English game is so great that it makes it more difficult for those players to perform well in the World Cup," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said his Manchester United players competing in the World Cup will be in urgent need of the 28 days of rest they are given before returning to training with United for next season. "They must have that or they won't feature next year, they'll just collapse. Exhaustion will get them, which makes it difficult for English players to perform well in the World Cup," he added.

United's leading striker Wayne Rooney, who carries the weight of the nation's expectations every time he pulls on an England shirt, struggled with injury towards the end of the season but Ferguson said he would be fit for the finals. "... if he wasn't (fit), there would probably be headlines all over the papers. I'm sure he'll be all right. I'm sure he's OK."

Asked who would win the tournament in South Africa which starts on June 11 Ferguson went with the form books. "My general view is that Brazil are very strong favourites with Spain following them," Ferguson said. "...I think France will do better than people think. They are underdogs, and Italy will probably get to the semis.”

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox