Fabio Capello’s aim to reach the final of the tournament looks almost laughable now after his side’s 1-1 draw with the USA was followed up by a dismal display in their 0-0 draw with Algeria.
Two poor performances, two poor results and speculation has now begun about the future of Capello. Many media outlets are suggesting that the Italian will step down if he fails to steer England out of a group which was seen as one of the easiest to progress from at this year’s World Cup.
Wayne Rooney showed his frustration after the game against Algeria, saying into a television camera: “Nice to see your own fans booing you.” He has since apologised to supporters and with his place in the side never in question, the attention has now turned to who will partner him up front against Slovenia.
It seems the whole nation is urging Capello to switch from his 4-4-2 formation to a 4-4-1-1 system to allow Steven Gerrard to support Rooney in attack, and the former AC Milan boss may be about to give the supporters what they want, insisting after Friday’s draw with Algeria that he will attempt to ‘do something different’.
With Capello admitting things have to change, Gerrard looks likely to play just behind Rooney, but a potential change of strike force is not the only selection worry for Capello. If Gerrard does switch to a more advanced role, Joe Cole, who is yet to kick a ball in the World Cup so far, could come into the starting line-up on the left wing.
Despite a number of positions still being up for grabs, the goalkeeping situation looks settled now with David James almost certain to retain his place, but the latest concern is who will play in front of him. England are now down to their fifth choice centre-back following injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and the suspension of Jamie Carragher, so Matthew Upson will partner John Terry on Wednesday.
Ranting Rooney | Wayne blasts fans following final-whistle boos
As it stands, Group C is there for the taking. Slovenia are the only team to have recorded a victory after beating Algeria 1-0 in their opening game and they top the group and will progress to the knockout stages with a win over an England team who must beat their opponents to go through.
Meanwhile, the USA, who sit in second place in the group with two points, will secure progression on Wednesday with a win over Algeria, who could also still qualify if they beat Bob Bradley’s side, but other results will have to go their way to ensure their place in the round of 16.
FIFA World Ranking: 25
Fresh from securing their first World Cup finals victory over Algeria, Matjaz Kek’s men took a shock 1-0 lead against the USA through the ever impressive Valter Birsa, who was found in space on the edge of the area before curling an excellent left-footed shot into the far corner past Tim Howard.
Slovenia then doubled their lead shortly before half-time through Zlatan Ljubijankic, but just minutes into the second half, Landon Donovan pulled a goal back for the Americans after poor defending from former West Bromwich Albion loanee Bostjan Cesar and nervous goalkeeping from the usually reliable Samir Handanovic.
Their composure in possession and willingness to attack has been a particular highlight from the World Cup’s surprise package, but their main weakness is undoubtedly the two centre-backs. USA manager Bob Bradley switched to a 3-4-3 system for the final ten minutes on Friday and his side immediately got the equaliser through Michael Bradley and when his side pushed players forward in numbers, the Slovenians looked shaky at the back.
Defending set-pieces has also been a concern for Matjaz Kek. His side looked weak in the air and should have lost the game against the USA in the last few minutes when Maurice Edu was left in acres of space at the far post to steer the ball home, and the goal would have stood have it not been for the referee, Koman Coulibaly from Mali, who ruled the goal out for a reason only he knows.
PLAYER TO WATCH
However, with just a point needed to qualify for the knockout stages, Kek may be tempted to go with a more negative formation. Striker Nejc Pecnik has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury, and with Zlatko Dedic underperforming in recent matches, a 4-5-1 formation may not seem like such a bad idea.
Zlatan Ljubijankic replaced Dedic to start against the USA and impressed, scoring his side’s second goal, but he may be sacrificed, leaving Milivoje Novakovic to play as a lone striker against England in Port Elizabeth.
One player whose position in the team is not in question is Valter Birsa. The tricky Auxerre midfielder was one of the star players in Slovenia’s dull opening game against Algeria but managed to go one better against the USA with a terrific goal to give his side a surprise lead.
If Birsa can keep up his good form against England, Fabio Capello’s men will have to cope with him and Gareth Barry will be the man to deal with the threat of the winger, who will always look to cut inside from the right wing and find space between the oppositions defence and midfield.
Recently released West Bromwich Albion midfielder and Slovenia captain Robert Koren will control the game for his side. The out of contract man scored the only goal of the game against Algeria and will be given licence to go forward, with central midfield partner Aleksander Radosavljevic sitting in front of the back four.
Slovenia’s rigid formation will be sure to frustrate England, and they remain a threat on the counter attack with Birsa and Koren always eager to create chances for the strikers, but in reality, if England play at their best, they should have enough to beat Slovenia and avoid an upset to progress from Group C.
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