What would an England World Cup be without a last minute injury scare? Well it probably wouldn’t be much of an England World Cup experience now, would it?
No sooner had it become apparent that Arsenal starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury woes aren’t going to rule him out of the entire tournament this summer, Roy Hodgson has been given yet another selection headache, this time from Manchester United ace Danny Welbeck. Scaremongering reports from today’s national press, relayed from England’s training camp in South America, claim that the forward was unable to complete training due to a thigh complaint which is now threatening to curtail his chances of starting against Italy.
The bulk of the information from various different sources suggests that he’s was carrying a niggle anyway, and that the problem has been amplified. For me, if Hodgson was in two minds over whether or not the 23-year-old deserved to start on the left-hand side against Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri, his mind should now have been unequivocally made; Welbeck must not play.
The game in Manaus will be far too hotly contested - in more than one sense - for anyone who is not at their absolute peak in terms of fitness, and if the quarter-final clash between England and Saturday’s opponents in Euro 2012 was anything to go by, it could be decided by the slightest of margins. For make no mistake about it, though the Three Lions’ opener is purely seen by many as a match featuring two of the biggest teams in the tournament, it could well end up deciding who makes it through to the qualifying stages. Expect no slow starts or touchy-feely type football here; there will be no quarter given.
As such Hodgson simply can’t afford to take the risk in fielding Welbeck if he isn’t able to play to his maximum capabilities. The majority of his game for the national side revolves around him being able to best defenders for pace, and engineer quick break aways down the left-hand side when England look to counter. Then of course there’s his duties in protecting Leighton Baines - or Luke Shaw in the unlikely event the Southampton youngster starts - when on the back foot. Whilst Andrea Pirlo remains the beating heart of the Italian’s squad they are always bound to enjoy copious spells of possession, and Hodgson will no doubt head into the game safe in the knowledge that his back line will be tested on more than one occasion.
Welbeck can neither be relied upon to be totally efficient going forward or heading back towards his own goal whilst toiling under the heat of the Brazilian sun with a thigh injury. Instead it would make far more sense to perhaps shift Adam Lallana over to the left, or possibly even Wayne Rooney, as was the case against Ecuador. The Saints skipper is arguably a better option when on the ball than Welbeck is anyway and, whilst he won’t score as many goals, his most recent campaign in the Premier League is evidence of his ability to do serious damage when going forward, and Rooney's ability to acclimatise and be effective in any area of the final third is given a healthy recommendation by his record.
It’s a crying shame for Welbeck, and it likely won’t sit well with his followers, but Hodgson can’t afford to take a risk in fielding any individual who has but the slightest chance of being the weak link in the chain, particular not in what could turn out to be the most pivotal match England will have prior to possible qualification.
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