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The Brits, as always, have big dreams for England World Cup team

England World Cup soccer team may have the players, coach and draw it needs to finally fulfill fans' lofty expectations.

Wayne Rooney with teammates
England's Wayne Rooney celebrates with other players after the team scored a goal on June 25 in a match against Ecuador during the 2006 World Cup. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)

England World Cup Team Statistics: Group C

Status: Advance round 2, knocked out quarterfinals

World Ranking: 8

World Cup 2010 Results: 1-1-2

Total goals scored: 3

Total goals scored against: 5

England World Cup Schedule: June 12 - United States (1-1 draw); June 18 - Algeria (0-0 draw); June 23 - Slovenia (1-0 win); June 26 - Germany (1-4 loss).

England World Cup Soccer 2010

Along with the royal family, the national team and its obsessive fans are the purest reflection of the glory that was England. Only the team hasn’t actually had that much glory. Still, the nation revels in its 1966 World Cup triumph and is frustrated — and eventually infuriated — by the team’s failure to live up to its hopes and dreams.

English social norms, like unflappability and emotional reticence, go out the window in World Cup season. And with England’s economy in the tank and its political future muddled, the nation desperately needs solace courtesy of its heroes.

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This time around the team appears genuinely talented, the coach is masterful, the draw is friendly. If England doesn’t flourish — a berth in the semifinals at least — a national depression seems certain to ensue.

England World Cup History: England won in 1966 — and don’t you forget it. Nobody in England can, even though that success — a one-time winner as host — merely makes it the equivalent of France. Of late, the quarterfinal looms as the team’s moment of truth and that truth has almost always been ugly.

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England World Cup Conventional Wisdom: England is in the throes of its quadrennial wrestling match between hope and history. Somehow English fans manage to simultaneously expect both the best and the worst from their team. Of all the traditional soccer powers, England landed in the easiest group and should once again reach the quarterfinals.

England World Cup Team Coach: Fabio Capello

England has noticed that since its own year of World Cup glory, Italy has reached four finals, winning twice. So it turned to Italy and lured Capello, a master tactician who won league titles in Rome, Milan, Madrid and Turin, with a $9-million annual salary, biggest of any World Cup coach.

Capello’s philosophy is familiar to anybody who has admired, however begrudgingly, Italian play. Defense first: it’s much easier to win if the other team doesn’t score. The style may not always be exciting — indeed it can be stultifying — but success thrills.

England World Cup Team Strength: England is powerful up the middle, with Wayne Rooney on attack, Steven Gerrard in midfield and John Terry anchoring the back line. All are tough physical players who dish it out and can take it (though Terry has slumped badly in the late season.)

England World Cup Team Weakness: England lacks a world-class goalkeeper and may turn to David James, who will turn 40 this summer and whose pejorative nickname — “Calamity” — offers little reassurance. Still, biggest problem may be the voracious tabloid press, which has already cost Terry the captaincy and apparently his focus after it unearthed a messy sex scandal.

England World Cup Key Player: Rooney is hardly the prototypical lithe, dashing striker. The English fireplug is not only a relentless, physical presence, but is surprisingly mobile and hugely skilled on the ball. All have combined to make him one of the game’s most lethal scorers. And, at 24, he seems to have harnessed the temperament that produced some memorably bad decisions on the field during his tempestuous youth.

While there are no doubts about his game, questions still surround him. Although he has had nagging ankle and groin woes, Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson, a Scotsman with his own agenda, kept playing him during the team’s title chase. Even if Rooney proves fit, Capello has had difficulty finding him a complementary running mate at the top of the offense.

 


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