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Euro 2012: England’s striking options

It’s only February and, although Euro 2012 discussion is a tad premature, England hopefuls have less than four months to impress Fabio Capello and earn themselves a place in the squad.  As a result, I thought it might be worth having a look at the strikers who will be eager to book their place on the plane to Poland and Ukraine in the summer.  Categorizing Walcott, Young et al as midfielders and assuming Capello will be taking four strikers to the tournament, the competition is tough but there are one or two spots up for grabs for anyone who finishes the season strongly.

Wayne Rooney: The obvious choice to lead the England line this summer.  Rooney moves interchangeably between droughts and scoring sprees for his country and Capello will be hoping for the former this summer, as opposed to the Man United player’s showing in South Africa.  Rooney will, of course, be serving a ban during the opening two group matches for his inexplicable kick during England’s final qualifier against Montenegro.  While this has forced Capello to re-think his group stage strategy, there is no danger of him leaving Rooney out of the squad and he will almost certainly be back in the side for the final match of the opening round and (touch wood) the knockout stages.

Darren Bent: The Aston Villa man has been number two in the England pecking order in recent times and that doesn’t look like changing.  After being heavily linked with a January move to Liverpool and scoring his 100th Premier League goal this week, Bent is flying high and it would take a Torres-esque drought between now an May to ruin his chances of a place in Capello’s squad.  He is likely to get the nod for the opening two games of the tournament, giving himself the opportunity to impress and potentially keep his place throughout England’s campaign.  That wouldn’t please Rooney, but he probably should have thought about that before shamelessly kicking a man for no reason.

Daniel Sturridge: Despite an incredibly successful loan spell at Bolton last season, there were question marks over whether Sturridge would break into the Chelsea team this year.  However, he has done more than just that, leading the club’s scoring charts and showing Fernando Torres exactly how it’s done.  His form has dipped a little recently, but he has looked dangerous on the ball all season and, despite insisting he is a striker, can also be usefully deployed on the right flank, cutting in and shooting with his favoured left foot. Despite his lack of caps to date, Sturridge will feel like he has an excellent chance of making his first England squad for a major competition.

Danny Welbeck: Welbeck has a similar story to that of Sturridge.  He scored goals while on load at Sunderland last season and has now broken into the side at Man United.  He has been less prolific than his Chelsea counterpart this season, but Capello will be aware that he is a different breed of striker, offering alternative benefits.  Welbeck is strong and athletic, with an ability to hold up the ball that poachers like Sturridge and Bent don’t necessarily possess.  There is a consensus that Capello’s decision will be Sturridge or Welbeck, but I can envisage a situation in which he might include both in the squad.  Either way, I can’t see him leaving both of them behind, making it a crucial few months for the youngest contenders.

Andy Carroll: Just over a year ago, the former Newcastle striker was almost a dead cert for the Euro 2012 squad.  He took the Premier League by storm up until Christmas and earned himself a £35 million move to big spending Liverpool.  Despite looking like the answer to Capello’s question of who to partner with Rooney, his move south-west has backfired somewhat.  The pony-tailed target man is now regularly discussed is the same breath as Torres in terms of inability to score and, on current form, there would be serious questions raised if he were named in the 23-man squad.  However, with four months left in the season there is still time for a turnaround.  Luis Suarez’s eight-match ban was his chance to show what he can do but, with Uruguayan returning, he once again has the opportunity to forge a partnership that looks so good on paper.  A lot of improvement necessary but, if Capello wants a target man in his squad, Carroll still has time to put himself back in the picture.

Peter Crouch: Having played a key part in Spurs’ Champions League Campaign last season, the big man was then deemed surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane in the summer and left for Stoke.  He has settled in well at the Britannia, scoring goals and helping them push into the top half of the table.  Another positive for Crouch is his goal scoring record at international level.  With 22 goals in 42, the majority of the other candidates can’t match his goals-per-game ratio and, if Carroll continues with his lacklustre season, the Stoke man provides the option as a target man.  What counts against him is his lack of recent international football.  After featuring in the 2010 world cup squad, Capello has not shown a preference for Crouch, failing to pick him for over a year.  It’s not obvious why the manager has taken a dislike to the striker but he doesn’t appear to be changing his mind any time soon.

Jermain Defoe: On the face of it, Defoe has a similar chance of a call up to his former teammate.  He too was present in South Africa, scoring the solitary goal in England’s victory over Slovenia to help us limp through the group stages.  However, his opportunities have also been limited under the current manager.  To further weaken his case, he struggles to hold down a regular place at club level, with Harry Redknapp’s tactics limiting his opportunities, provoking rumours last month that he was on his way to Anfield.  Despite all this, Defoe might be worth a gamble.  Few players are as sharp in the box as the spurs man and, at club and international level, his record of goals-per-start is impressive.  He has found the net 6 times in his last 7 starts for Spurs and his 15 England goals have come from just 17 starts.  Unlikely to get the nod but I wouldn’t be complaining if Capello were to spring this particular surprise.

Bobby Zamora: The final alternative of the big target men.  Following rumours of a fall out with Fulham manager Martin Jol, Zamora completed a deadline day move across London to Mark Hughes’ QPR.  Zamora has rarely maintained a consistently high scoring rate, but his hold-up play is very impressive.  As the man who took Emile Heskey to the world cup, Capello may well look at Carroll’s form, once again exclude Crouch and settle on Zamora.  He only has two senior caps so he will have to impress the England boss with performances at his new club and any pre-tournament friendlies, should he be selected.

So, Rooney and Bent look all set to board the plane to Poland and Ukraine.  Welbeck and Sturridge are perhaps fighting for the next spot whilst the target man options are numerous, if not all that impressive.  The final four will be dependent on the way in which Capello wants to compose his squad and he’s likely to keep us all guessing until the moment the 23-man squad is named. 

Paddy von Behr @HighBalls1

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