The World Cup picture

Bolivians are over the moon after thrashing Argentina 6-1.-AP

If Argentina, and a humiliated manager, Diego Maradona, never, surely, a logical appointment, seek any kind of consolation, they could perhaps find it in what happened back in 1993 at the River Plate Stadium, when Argentina, on home ground, were thrashed 5-0 by a Colombian team inspired by that maverick talent, Tino Asprilla. They still qualified for the World Cup finals in the US.

Bolivians

If Argentina, and a humiliated manager, Diego Maradona, never, surely, a logical appointment, seek any kind of consolation, they could perhaps find it in what happened back in 1993 at the River Plate Stadium, when Argentina, on home ground, were thrashed 5-0 by a Colombian team inspired by that maverick talent, Tino Asprilla. They still qualified for the World Cup finals in the USA, as I don’t doubt they will again, since no fewer than four South American sides go through to South Africa with a play-off against lesser opposition clearing the way for another.

I wish I could share the synthetic excitement engendered by England’s uneasy, last gasp, win against modest, unambitious Ukraine, at Wembley. It was only almost at the death that John Terry swept in the 2-1 winner, after Andrei Shevchenko had, so to speak, risen from the ashes of a waning career to thump home his team’s unexpected equaliser. Making one think years back to his supreme performance at this stadium in the European Cup, for Dynamo Kiev against Arsenal.

All right, England under Capello had won all five of their initial World Cup qualifiers and will doubtless be in South Africa, but what will they do when they get there? The Lampard-Gerrard problem has yet to be solved. Against Ukraine, Gerrard was banished to the left wing again, where it was just as well that Ukraine were no longer able to deploy that former galloping hero, right back Oleg “The Horse” Luzhny, whose overlapping would have been facilitated by Gerrard’s frequent wandering from the wing. As for Lampard, he was largely deployed in a deep position, which effectively prevented him from striking for goal.

At Liverpool, Gerrard is now flourishing in an attacking role, just behind that talented centre forward, Fernando Torres. It didn’t work in Liverpool’s second European Cup Final against Milan, when Gerrard looked a fish out of water, but it is paying dividends now. But could it work for England? Gerrard might play just behind the burly Emile Heskey, injured and unavailable against Ukraine. But then what would be done about Wayne Rooney, arguably the best player on the park against Ukraine now operating forcefully in the middle, now wandering to the left wing, to replace Gerrard when he too wandered?

A salient problem being that, in present circumstances, England have no genuine left winger, while when David Beckham inevitably comes on as a sub, as he did again at half-time against Ukraine, it means that there is no genuine winger on the right, either, since, as we know, Beckham, for all his clever crosses, has neither the pace nor the skills to get behind his full back to the line.

Wayne Wright Phillips unquestionably has those qualities and was arguably the best England player in that drab defeat in Seville (admittedly no Rooney, Ferdinand or Gerrard), in addition to which, in Seville, he worked back tirelessly to help out a besieged defence. Wright Phillips’ reward was to be entirely left out of the subsequent 4-0 friendly against feeble Slovakia at Wembley and to come on only as a very late sub against Ukraine, on the left flank.

Then, there is the vexed question of Rooney’s explosive temperament. He surely deserved to be sent off against Ukraine for a shockingly dangerous lunge at Aliev. True, as an evasive Capello said afterwards, he did get the ball, but a reckless follow through could have caused Aliev serious injury. In the event, it didn’t but that was no excuse for the Danish referee failing even to give Rooney a yellow card, let alone the red which he fully deserved. Shades, in Capello’s equivocation, of those famous Italian managers Vittorio Pozzo, between the wars winner of two World Cups, and Enzo Bearzot, who won it in 1982. Both, though cultivated men, turned a blind eye to brutality. Pozzo deployed the Argentine thug Luisito Morti in his 1934 World Cup-winning team. Bearzot used the ferocious Claudio Gentile and Romeo Benetti.

Elsewhere, keep an eye on Serbia, a hugely improved team, now leading a group in which France — two narrow 1-0 wins of late — will struggle to prevail even though they did beat Serbia in Paris. After Serbia’s recent 3-2 win in Romania, their Manchester United centre back, Vidic counselled caution pointing out they had difficult home games to come. But manager Radomir Antic, once a Luton Town player and star coach in Spain, is impressively on the right track.