Football Expert & Columnist
Right in the mix
Jamie Redknapp kicks off his World Cup column... and says England can end 44 years of hurt!
Last Updated: 07/06/10 8:23am
You might not be hearing it from the England camp, but there is no denying they have got a great chance of winning the World Cup; these boys are right in the mix.
I know everybody in the squad has been playing it down - probably because of the coach - but we have plenty of world-class players, players that are feared by other countries. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, are up there with the likes of Lionel Messi when it comes to the best in the world. The majority of our players regularly compete against the top players with their clubs and are, you have to say, on a par with them.
Also we have an incredible half of the draw (England to win 6/1) - it couldn't be more favourable. One game I can't get out of my mind is the friendly defeat by Spain back in February when they outplayed us, but we had a few missing that night and the one thing that you have to take into account is that England's draw is so kind, they won't be playing a Spain (7/2) or a Brazil (9/2) - my two favourites - until the semi-finals or final anyway.
And when you get to that stage, anything can happen, it really can. Luck is something England never seem to get in major tournaments but if that can change then I do think this bunch of players can go all the way.
The heat won't be a problem for once and although the altitude and new ball are causing concern, the only people I've heard moaning about it are goalkeepers - which is good news. Instead of being 20 yards out and fancying a pop, expect people to be doing it from 30 yards out. Gerrard and Lampard, Gareth Barry and James Milner are excellent free-kick takers and we have a few, not least Rooney, who can and are not afraid to strike the ball from distance.
Look at those factors and there is plenty going in England's favour in South Africa. But I am pleased we have heard nothing like that coming out of the England camp; these boys know they have to keep their heads down and work hard first and foremost. And they know if they do come out and make predictions or tell the world they're going to do this and that, if they don't toe the line, then Fabio Capello will be on them like a tonne of bricks.
Capello is another reason, why England can do it. He is a tough man as he showed - rightly or wrongly - by dropping Theo Walcott from his final 23. Under previous regimes, players were coming out and saying all sorts of things and making all sorts of predictions and you just didn't feel there was that same respect, or even fear, or previous managers. Let's be honest, it was harder to get out of Sven Goran Eriksson's squads than in them! That's not the case with Capello.
If that was ever in doubt, it isn't anymore. I have to admit I do feel sorry for Theo Walcott because if Capello has said he knew his 23 three weeks ago, why did he bother starting him against Japan and Mexico? After all, the lad was alright for England when he scored that hat-trick against Croatia!
I also feel a little sympathy for Adam Johnson and would've liked to have seen him go as well. By all accounts he has been performing out of his skin in training and he can come on and beat players and provide something different down the left if needs be. He reminds me of Ryan Giggs like that and sometimes at these tournaments, young players come of age, make an impact and make a name for themselves.
The only other real dilemma was leaving Darren Bent out, but I've got to say I have no problem with that. Striker is the hardest position to play because you are judged on goals and because of that there would've been so much pressure on Darren. He's never going to stand out through his tricks, flicks and skills or be easy on the eye, so goals are all he can offer.
And if you look at Wayne Rooney's record when he's played alongside Emile Heskey - I think it's something like 10 goals in 10 games - it shows you how valuable Emile can be. Admittedly he won't be under the same pressure to score, literally because we don't expect him to, but he will lead the line, hold the ball up, cause mayhem and create space for Rooney (Rooney to be top scorer 10/1). And believe me, he's not as bad a finisher as you'd think.
Of course, the stage is set for Rooney this summer. He is already an incredible footballer and the best thing you can say about him is those sort of players don't come along very often. The lad is a throwback; he loves football, he just loves playing and he loves winning. You get the feeling if he was driving home from training and saw some kids having a kickabout in the park, he'd be pull over and join in.
I am a little worried though that Wayne hasn;t scored a goal since Bayern Munich at the end of March, though. I know people say the injury will have done him good and he will be fresh, but I would much rather he came bouncing into this World Cup with five or six goals behind him, bang in form. The last thing we want is an uptight, anxious Wayne Rooney, because if he gets frustrated and goes around kicking people, there is only going to be one winner there. And it won't be England.
Having said that, it's impossible not to get excited if you are a player at the World Cup. I remember being named in the Euro 96 squad and it is the best feeling ever. Looking at it now, having retired a few years ago, I would give anything to relive that moment; knowing you are going to represent your country at a major tournament with the world watching. It's the stuff you dream of.
Of course it's intense and there's an incredible amount of pressure on those 23 players, but at the same time it's great fun. Like everyone back home, they will be aware of that, but all they will be thinking about is the USA game and what's next. The pressure is on in every single game and you cannot afford to look ahead.
In the past England's problem has been we have expected so much yet delivered too little. This time, I really don't see any reason why that can't be the other way round. Those players know they can put themselves on the map and for whoever wins, it will be a life-changing summer. And after 44 years of waiting, can you imagine what it will be like if those boys can do it? I can't think of a World Cup since then, when they had a better chance.