England are through to the 2010 World Cup Finals after defeating Croatia 5-1 tonight. A great result for the team that, under Fabio Capello's workmanship, have turned the corner, not only bringing pride back to the national team but respect back to the national team.
Even in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tenure in charge of the team, which of course contained that historic 5-1 win over Germany in Munich, there was not a real sense that the team (as they are now) could really mount a real challenge for a major tournament.
Of course, this England team are by no means a finished article. There are still more than a few players fighting for their England place at next year's World Cup, and a few positions up for grabs in the starting lineups. Glen Johnson's right back position could be under threat from Wes Brown, providing the Manchester United defender can figure for his club side this season.
The balance of England's midfield could well come under question. Although Gareth Barry is doing well for the team, Joe Cole would be welcomed back with open arms into the squad. Then there is the right position where Aaron Lennon, David Beckham, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Theo Walcott, and even James Milner could operate.
Competition is healthy in the squad. And what’s even better than that is the confidence the players have that they all have a good chance to play and ask questions of the management team.
Up front for England, Wayne Rooney has earned his place on the team. Rooney was criticised for his sending-off in the last World Cup, and then for his performances for England in that ill-fated Euro 2008 Qualifying campaign. However, under Capello, he has finally begun to play well in the England system.
The main reason for his form, along with his maturity as a player on the pitch and his improving form for Manchester United, is his partnership with Emile Heskey.
Heskey, although not prolific with a record of seven goals nearing 60 appearances for England, has been a good partner for Rooney. The big guy wins a lot of headers. And with defenders having to watch him, he creates space for Rooney and the supporting midfielders to run into where he can lay the ball off for them.
Rooney is profiting from him and is becoming a better player for England in the process. When Owen and even Peter Crouch were partnering him, neither were good at doing the "donkey's work" for him, and Rooney, as a result, was tiring himself out running into needless scraps.
All this whilst trying to win position with no support near him, which, as a result, would irritate him, and defenders would seize on this and wind him up
Of course, Heskey isn't going to get you goals every game, as his record clearly shows. Michael Owen, another English striker who will be hoping for a return to the national team in time for the World Cup, has spoken highly of the Aston Villa forward in the past, claiming the best football he played in his career was alongside the forward at Liverpool and England. During this time, Owen scored consistently for England, with Heskey doing the "donkey's work."
Fabio Capello, in my view, has to take five strikers to the World Cup because you need the squad to cover for injuries.
Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe will surely feature for the team. The improvement of Carlton Cole over the last year has been great, and with confidence under his belt, he should merit a place. Peter Crouch, barring a poor year for Spurs, should merit a place in the squad.
Owen shouldn't be ruled out either, despite the rumours being that Capello feels that he can’t handle the pace at International level. This obviously isn’t what Alex Ferguson thinks, as his signing of the forward for Manchester United shows that, in the eyes of a great manager, he still has much to offer.
It would be harsh on Heskey to miss out on the finals, as he has put in some great performances during this campaign. His performance in Belarus, where he led the line well, shouldn't be forgotten, and neither should his efforts in Zagreb. His linkup play with Rooney and Walcott that night was perfect and one that he should watch on DVD every time before an England game.
Heskey brings strength to the team and every team needs that one player who will work for the team, even if it's a detriment to their own individual success.
I’m not saying that I would start Heskey in the crunch games of the tournament, when you need trickery and creativity to break teams down.
But, I would play him in situations where his presence would be needed, particularly in the group stages of the tournament where his buildup play will be needed against opposition that, more than likely, will try to pressurise the team.
Big Emile just needs to perhaps believe in himself more—as well as taking a few more opportunities on goal that come his way, which would be of great use to the team.
After all, to win games you need to score goals, and it would be good to see England’s Unsung Hero get goals on a more consistent basis!