A vibrant midfield

This time, English fans have been enthused by the imperious form displayed by the side in Group 6 of the European qualifiers with eight straight wins and just one loss, to Ukraine. And the defeat came only after England had made sure of its berth for a 13th World Cup.

England, the mother country of the modern game, has won the World Cup only once so far; in 1966 at home under the leadership of the legendary Bobby Moore. And though English fans believed that their country had the potential to recreate the magic of 1966 in every later World Cup that it qualified for, the actual results have simply been heart-breaking. Only in Italia '90, England, with a side featuring Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, David Platt and Chris Waddle, reached the semifinals before losing to eventual champion, Germany, on penalties.

This time, English fans have been enthused by the imperious form displayed by the side in Group 6 of the European qualifiers with eight straight wins and just one loss, to Ukraine. And the defeat came only after England had made sure of its berth for a 13th World Cup. This qualification was doubly sweet as England had failed to make the grade for Euro 2008.

Another encouraging factor is the superb form displayed by the leading English striker, Wayne Rooney, for both his club and country in recent months. The Manchester United star with his powerful surging turns and long-range pile-drivers is undoubtedly one of the game's leading forwards today, often compared favourably with Argentina's Lionel Messi and his former Man U team-mate and the world's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The English side also includes a number of other world-class players such as centre-back John Terry and the workaholic midfield duo of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. The midfielders have time and again proved their worth at tackling and breaking up play at one end even while setting the pace and scoring goals at the other. Had the flamboyant David Beckham been there, the side would have been in full flow down the middle. But the former skipper will not be seen in action in South Africa due to injury.

However, England is weak in the goal and pretty inconsistent in attack. That it has struggled to both create and control against better teams is the main shortcoming that could thwart the country in achieving its goal in South Africa. Also significant will be the fitness of its players, several of whom having been suffering from niggling injuries.

England, however, has a capable manager in Fabio Capello, famous for his results at the club-level. The master tactician has been with Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus and has had the Midas touch. But he is in charge of a National side for the first time. The Italian is likely to retire after the World Cup and would be expecting a golden sunset to his career, courtesy England.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth) and Robert Green (West Ham).

DEFENDERS

Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham) and Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa).

MIDFIELDERS

Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Aston Villa) and Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City).

FORWARDS

Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa) and Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).

Coach: Fabio Capello.