Three Lions: Roar or Whimper?
Big buzz surrounds soccer world - will David's Golliaths shine sans Rooney?india Updated: May 26, 2006 15:18 IST
Expectations are high that Sven Goran Eriksson's squad has the ability to go all the way and win the World Cup for the second time since 1966.
However, England appear to be injury jinxed. Just as in 2002 when David Beckham struggled after returning from a fractured metatarsal bone, the broken foot syndrome has struck again.
The biggest blow is to striker Wayne Rooney, who has more than one fracture and, in the words of the coach, needs a 'miracle' to be fit for the World Cup.
There is better news on striker Michael Owen, who has a similar injury, but would return to first-team football in a friendly against Belarus on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Arsenal defender Ashley Cole, who suffered the curse of the broken foot back in October, is another player who is slowly, but surely getting back into shape.
The injuries have made life difficult for Eriksson, who will be stepping down after the World Cup.
Under normal circumstances, the Swedish coach prefers the 4-4-2 system he has used throughout his reign, but the emergence of a holding midfielder has allowed Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and captain Beckham to roam forward without having to chase back for defensive duties.
Eriksson will be praying that Owen is fully fit. Rooney's loss is a sad one, and not just for England. At 20, he is one of the best young talents in the game and definitely a man for the big occasion with the strength, speed, touch and sheer lack of fear which mean that no defender relishes facing him.
However, England do have options from the bench. Liverpool's tall forward Peter Crouch, Arsenal wunderkind Theo Walcott and Tottenham winger Aaron Lennon are waiting in the wings, while Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick are all capable of good things in midfield.
With the blend of youth and experience seemingly right and with the players working hard for their coach once more, England have as good a chance of most in Germany - but Eriksson can not afford any more injuries.