FIFA RANK: 8
In the soccer world, England is known as the "Three Lions" but you might as well call them the "gorillas" for the 300 pound ape that's on the team's back this summer in South Africa.
There is pressure on every team in the World Cup to perform well, but in England...well lets just say...there are national months of mourning when the Three Lions are eliminated from international competition. England is considered the birth place of the sport, but only once has the Royal Family and the British faithful won a major international trophy and that came all the way back in 1966, when Queen Elizabeth was 40 years old!
The English haven't just lost, they've had their hearts ripped out in the process. The infamous Maradona "Hand of God" goal robbed the Three Lions of a chance to win the World Cup in '86. David Beckham's horrible red card in '98 left the squad a man down and they eventually fell to Argentina again. And four years ago, English striker Wayne Rooney was sent off after a phantom call in the quarterfinals that involved Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Its been one thing after another, but there is a different sense of optimism this year in the Three Lions camp, and interestingly enough it came from an Italian. Coach Fabio Capello took control of the squad after they failed to make Euro '08 and the overhaul was immediate. The stars were no longer treated that way and a starting spot was now earned, not given. The players stepped up to the challenge and tore through qualification. The Three Lions lost only once in 10 matches in a group that included World Cup '06 participants Ukraine and Croatia.
Coach Capello also made magic with the roster. A team like England has no problem fielding stars, but they needed to get the right chemistry. Attacking mid-fielders Frank Lampard (Chelsea man!) and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard now have defined roles and center forward Wayne Rooney is still one of the world's best scorers. The only questions surrounding this team are on the defense. Captain Rio Ferdinand was recently ruled out of the tournament because of a recent injury and there is no clear cut keeper heading into South Africa.
Still, I like this English team alot. If I were a gambling man and I usually am, I'd say they are one my top four squads to win the entire thing. And believe me, that's not easy for me to say especially with their first match against the Americans.
I'll always remember former 49ers QB Steve Young after he won the Super Bowl in 1994. (Yes, I did just transition the NFL, but I got a point) The highlight of the post game celebration was Young yelling to teammates..."I need someone to pull this monkey off my back!" I gotta believe the Three Lions feel the same way this summer in South Africa, but with the pressure surrounding this team, you can say that monkey in a 300 pound gorilla.
June 12 vs. USA- 1:30 p.m. CT (Arguably the most anticipated first round match, English will be ready)
June 18 vs. Algeria- 1:30 p.m. CT (Three Lions should roll because i'm hoping they only get a draw against US)
June 23 vs. Slovenia- 9 a.m. CT (England may possibly be through so bench players will get some time here)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: ARGENTINA