Fabio Capello – a top manager who has won copious trophies at club level including a European Cup during the glory days with AC Milan in the early 1990s. However there are still question marks over his pedigree at an international level. He was the England manager at the last World Cup in South Africa, though their second round exit was seen as failure. He managed them to qualification to Euro 2012, though never actually took them to the tournament as he resigned due to issues around the captaincy. He did not stay out of work long and was employed as the manager of Russia in July 2012 with instruction to get them to the World Cup. Qualification was duly achieved by topping their group ahead of Portugal. The question is can he now make Russia into a team that can challenge for these major honours as that was always the question mark against him with England. He has already impressed his employers enough for them to hand him a contract extension to the 2018 World Cup where a strong challenge on home soil is a must. Today they have a huge game against Belgium and after their draw against South Korea (Capello and goalkeepers in opening World Cup games is now beyond a joke as Igor Akinfeev chucked one in, just like Robert Green four years ago) their participation beyond the group stages is under threat. Question marks still hang over Capello as an international manager and only a strong run in Brazil will keep the critics at bay for the moment, its a long time till 2018.
Another huge game today takes place in the jungle, Manaus – After the 2-2 draw between their group rivals, Germany and Ghana yesterday both teams are fully aware of what they need to do. With USA having won their opening fixture they now know a win will ensure qualification for the knockout phase, even a draw would be a good result given goal difference is the first deciding factor if points are level. The incentive is there to go for the three points as it would mean the result of their final group game against Germany would not affect their chances of qualification. Portugal after their battering at the hands of the Germans need a win – simple as – and will need to make the running to give them their best possible opportunity to qualify for the knockout phase. The problem they have is that their team is in a bit of disarray. Pepe’s indiscretion and sending off in the first match was of no help and the fact that left back Fabio Coentrao has been ruled out for the reminder of the competition due to injury, their manager, Paulo Bento, who is now under massive pressure, has to reshuffle his back four – which looked extremely porous in their first game. I have not even mentioned their star player Cristiano Ronaldo who is struggling with injury and may not even be available, though some people have said that they will be a better ‘team’ without their star player, but surely the inclusion of the Ballon d’Or winner can only improve the Portugal line up. There is some history to this game, in 2002 the USA beat Portugal in the group stage and qualified for the knockout phase, Portugal will be all out to make sure it does not happen again. As can be seen by my prediction below I think they will get their revenge and make it a very exciting final round of games in group G.
More though on England’s elimination and more importantly the captaincy. It is now inevitable (surely) that Steven Gerrard will now retire from international football, along with Frank Lampard, both stalwarts with 100+ caps, alongside another centurion Ashley Cole who decided to depart the England scene before the World Cup. Ok candidates – well there aren’t many. Roy will now be looking to introduce a number of youngsters who are inexperienced at international level so it is unlikely one of them will have the burden of leading the team thrust upon them, that for me leaves only two possibilities if you are looking for experience. Wayne Rooney, 90+ caps and now a senior member of the England set up, but some people want him to be sidelined as he may stop some of the promising youngsters getting in, so maybe not a certain starter in every game. The other one would be Joe Hart who is undoubtedly England’s number one and a guaranteed start in every team. It will be interesting to see where Roy goes with this despite the usual press witch-hunt for his resignation – same old same old same old.
Belgium 1 Russia 1
South Korea 2 Algeria 1
USA 1 Portugal 2
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