England - the shape of things to come

By PETE CHAYNEY, Mail online

Last updated at 08:17 06 August 2004

The year is 2006. Big Brother has finished for good, the Conservatives are popular and the English football team has just held the World Cup aloft in Germany.

Pie in the sky? Perhaps, particularly the first two but using our Ball of Crystal we have gazed into the future and seen the team that will bring football glory to the nation.

The team, playing a traditional 4-4-2 has Liverpool's Chris Kirkland between the sticks. The blonde-haired stopper has in recent years been so brittle he should really be playing, or rather not playing, for Spurs.

However, after two years of injury-free, if trophyless, top-flight football the talented giant was a shoo-in after finally showing his all-round ability. He is England's No1 for years to come after David James was dropped. Not the first time David James and dropped have been used in the same sentence.

Wearing the number three shirt Arsenal's Ashley Cole once again saw off a strong challenge from the ever-improving Wayne Bridge. The volatile defender, regarded as the best left-back in Euro 2004, continued to mature after the tournament reducing the rashness in his defending to add to his attacking purpose.


Reliable old stager Gary Neville kept his place largely due to a dearth of international class right-backs after Chelsea's Glen Johnson, touted as Neville's long-term successor, struggled to break into Chelsea's first-team, eventually becoming eighth choice after Roman Abramovich developed a right-back whimsy.

Rio Ferdinand returned from suspension for missing a drugs test and provided composed performances at the centre of defence for both club and country, winning the Premiership in his first season back with Manchester United.

Alongside Rio Ferdinand, to the surprise of many people was Jonathan Woodgate, beating off stiff competition from the ageing Sol Campbell and John Terry.

Inspired choice

Woodgate proved an inspired choice, being both quicker on the turn than Terry or Campbell, as well as having much better distribution particularly compared to the latter.

The centre-back pairing not only both have sound defensive qualities but feel comfortable in possession and allowed England to utilise the ball from the back.

Unsurprisingly, particularly after the shock early retirement of Paul Scholes after Euro 2004, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard make up the central midfield two.

Having played together over the intervening years, the two developed a good understanding of each others' game, covering the other when the runner goes on a trademark marauding charge into the opposition's danger zone.

England's wide men were, as always, a source of much conjecture. Pacey midget Shaun Wright-Phillips occupied the position on the left flank. The talented former Under-21 star continued to put in top quality performances for a perennially poor Manchester City side. The lively winger provided England with much needed width and had a keen eye for the spectacular.

The shock absentee was David Beckham who had quit football and moved to Asia, uniting all the countries of the continent into a single kingdom with him as ruler.

His position wide on the right was taken by the enigmatic Joe Cole. The former West Ham player unlocked the opposition defence on numerous occasions with his box of tricks.

Familiar forwards

Again, no surprises up front with the potent combination of wunderkind Wayne Rooney (still only 20 for Germany 2006) and ex-wunderkind Michael Owen. The former started to shine in club football after his move from relegated Everton, while Owen continued to oscillate between periods of goalfests and times of goal droughts.

Despite the opposition knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the pair, they simply couldn't stop them.

Unlucky mentions: Always the bridesmaid never the bride, Owen Hargreaves misses out once again - a versatile squad player who never quite managed to get his name in the first XI.

Jermain Defoe, the prolific striker with magic in his boots, was extremely unlucky to be behind two strikers of such class. However England were thankful to have a 'fox in the box' of quality on the bench if need be.