Tom Oldfield

It is a widely-accepted fact within the sporting community that attack wins games, defence wins trophies. Whether it is football, rugby or basketball, teams that are defensively solid will always be in the mix for the big prizes – just look at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Luckily for England boss Fabio Capello, he has been blessed with some real talent in that area.
Injuries permitting, England will travel to South Africa will one of the strongest back lines in the tournament and looking at their opponents in Group C, it is hard to imagine that defence being too troubled. But sterner tests will come later in the competition and they must be ready.
Captain John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will be Capello’s first choice pairing at centre-back and there are few stronger partnerships. Terry’s aerial dominance, leadership and strength in the tackle mark him out as one of the world’s finest defenders. He has an incredible knack of getting his head on every cross and puts his body on the line with blocks and clearances.
Ferdinand is a bigger worry, having been hampered by injury and average form this season so far. Manchester United have managed without him thanks to the progress of Jonny Evans and the return of Wes Brown but Capello will want his strongest players available. Ferdinand’s pace, composure and positional play make him the perfect partner for Terry and he has played a big part in United’s dominance over the past three seasons. Fortunately, he has plenty of time to recover but he will need to put a good run of form together to ease concerns after lapses against Manchester City and Liverpool this campaign.
The full-back positions are also nailed down, with Ashley Cole on the left and Glen Johnson on the right. Despite spending years in the defensive-minded Serie A, Capello has shown a willingness to encourage his full-backs to support the attack and, with Steven Gerrard roaming from his role on the left flank, it is especially important for Cole to bomb forward and offer width.
In all likelihood, Capello will pick Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry and Cole as his first choice back four when the World Cup begins for England against the United States on 12th June. But that still leaves as many as four defensive slots left to fill and there are plenty of contenders fighting for selection, meaning there is a lot at stake over the coming months.
Injuries to talented centre-backs like Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate and the retirement of Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher might have cut into the pool of options but Capello still has Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Brown among the hopefuls. Phil Jagielka, out injured since May, will also feel he has time to stake a claim but will know that peak fitness must be proved under the Capello regime.
The versatility of Brown and Lescott, who can play at right-back and left-back respectively, ought to ensure their places on the plane. Should Johnson pick up a knock, Brown would be an able replacement and this will possibly persuade Capello to do without the services of stalwart Gary Neville or Manchester City’s Micah Richards. Lescott has made it clear that he strongly prefers to play in the centre of the defence but has experience at left-back from his Everton days.
That means that Upson and Jagielka might well be scrapping for the final centre-back reserve role and the West Ham man seems to be the favourite, owing to his previous appearances for England under Capello and Jagielka’s lack of playing time this season. But, with several months to go, this could change.
And that means that the final defensive slot in the squad will probably go to a replacement left-back. Despite some below-par displays at club and international level, Wayne Bridge’s name continues to crop up in conversation and he is profiting from a serious lack of alternatives. Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock might make a late push but, assuming Bridge bounces back from his current injury on schedule, the City man’s experience and consistent delivery should help him sneak into Capello’s final squad.
Looking at his options, the England boss may well conclude that his first choice defence will take some beating but that the reserves have something to prove at international level. And, therefore, his fingers will be firmly crossed that injuries do not rock the boat. The defence has rarely let England down in previous tournaments but, with the goalkeeping situation still a long way from being resolved, the back line must be all the more secure.
Capello has a plethora of attacking options at his disposal and so long as the rearguard holds firm, England can expect a deep run in South Africa.


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 Photo Courtesy: Toksuede