Fabio Capello has brought a swagger to Wembley in his time as manager for England. Not only are they on pace to qualify with ease for the South Africa 2010, but they are doing so with pizazz.
Gone are the days when Beckham was centerfold of the squad, now a days its more a of collaboration of young and old that has given the Three Lions their personality. Gerrard and Lampard's competition for time in the midfield has provided each with more momentum, and the play of younger players like Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, and Ashley Young have brought the pace for England.
Unlike the struggles during the Euro '08 qualification process, the ability to score goals has not been an issue has they have achieved a goal differential of +11 in four games of qualification. Saturday's friendly with Slovenia brought another offensive attack, cruising to a 4-0 win in preparation of next week's qualifier with the Ukraine.
If their defending can stay solid with the likes of Chelsea stars John Terry and Ashley Cole, the Queen's men will be poised to possibly sweep the qualifiers and will not face a true test until quite possibly next June.
Complacency has been a thorn in the sides of the English in the past, if they can manage and keep their momentum, they just may be able to make noise in 14 months.
Photo: The Guardian
I sat there in the stands on a cold, windy Monday night at Dodger Stadium. When I got the tickets off StubHub, I had hope of seeing the US or Venezuela, because like most Americans, I get star struck when I see the big name players.
Much to my disappointment, the Championship matched up Korea and Japan for the fifth time in the tournament. My disappointment did not last long how ever, as the drive through downtown was filled with many cars bearing the Korean flag and others with those of Japan.
The passion of the fans was only rivalled by a college rivalry game, and the buzz was out of this world.
Surprisingly to me, the crowd was predominantly pro-Korean, and this could not be more evident than when Shin-Soo Choo tied ballgame with a solo homer in the fifth. Fans were literally dancing in the aisles, and the Top Deck of Chavez Ravine rattled as if a quake was rocking Seoul. Every batter was greeted with a chant of nearly 30,000 strong belting out their name, banging their thunder sticks, and leaning on every single pitch.
Ichiro's atbats were the pinnacle of the game in my eyes. The Japanese faithful stood on their feet with pride and gusto, while Ichiro was booed and jeered by the Korean crowd. Ironically it was Ichiro who won the game for Japan in the 10th, in one of the hardest fought atbats of the night, lining a two-run single to center.
After the game I sat there trying to recap the night, staring down at the celebration. Was this tournament successful in my eyes?
Well, to give you some insight, there were only three people booed Monday night. Alex Rodriguez during an advertisement, Bud Selig while he presented the medals, and the aforementioned Ichiro. Aside from the Japanese captain, the jeers paralleled what has been wrong with baseball: Bud Selig and steroids.
To answer my question, yes it was, because the game featured the way baseball should be played. These teams play how the National League used to be played, before the home run's importance on the game magnified.
The games might not give them justice on ESPN or what not, but when you go there first hand, it is out of this world. Selig surely created this tournament to pit the US and Dominican, but because of the mind set of those teams, and the lack of American fan support, its not wonder that heart wins championships.
The Asian countries play with heart no matter the game or a competition's perceived importance, something the MLB lost a long time ago. Sure, players like Eric Byrnes, Mark DeRosa, and Justin Pedroia play with heart, but the are they vast majority.
Thankfully Japan and Korea play with passion no matter what.