14 May ~ Most bookmakers have England as third favourites to win the World Cup this summer. Their odds are always fanciful – driven down by patriotic bets made more in hope than belief. But a cursory glance around the competing squads should discourage any drunken wagering. It is not so much the players in the opposing squads that should deter potential gamblers, but who they can afford to leave out.
There were few surprises and no galling omissions in Fabio Capello's provisional 30-man squad. Capello seemed to struggle to find 30 quality players, not whittle them down. He drafted Jamie Carragher back from international retirement, tried to tempt Paul Scholes into the squad, picked Gareth Barry despite his injury and included injury-prone defenders Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King. The England manager only stopped short of naming Owen Hargreaves in the squad when his medical team ruled the Manchester United midfielder out. Capello is nothing if not pragmatic and, in fairness, it is difficult to find fault with any of these decisions. But his reliance on injured, untested or unfit players doesn't say much for the depth of talent at his disposal.
The World Cup will not necessarily be won by the country with the best provisional 30-man squad but unlike many of his competitors, Capello didn't really have to struggle to leave anyone out. The same cannot be said for Argentina, who have longer odds than England. Diego Maradona could not find room for two men who will play in next Saturday's Champions League final – Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso. Maradona also left out Fernando Gago, the Real Madrid midfielder, and Gabriel Milito, the Barcelona centre-back, from his man squad.
The high-profile absentees from the Argentina squad can perhaps be explained away by the fact it was picked by Maradona. But he is not the only manager who will travel to South Africa without potential match-winners. Brazil will be without Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato and Adriano. An unfancied France team had no place for Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Patrick Vieira. Italy left Antonio Cassano, Francesco Totti and Mario Balotelli behind. And Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has scored more international goals than England's five forwards put together, was left out of the Dutch squad.
Capello said yesterday that if his England squad don't reach the final they can count themselves failures. His confidence is admirable, but at those odds, not worth putting money on.