LONDON - If Fabio Capello were to use Fantasy Football rules to select his World Cup squad he would surely have exhausted all his changes by now in a desperate attempt to find a reliable England goalkeeper.
With only two months until the Italian names his 23 for South Africa, England look no nearer solving their goalkeeping problem than when he took over.
When David Beckham was ruled out of the June 11 to July 11 finals earlier this month after tearing an Achilles tendon, at least Capello knew he had a wealth of talent to fill the midfielder's shoes.
Unfortunately the Italian does not enjoy the same luxury when it comes to weighing up his goalkeeping options.
The list from which he will select three includes a 39-year-old prone to blunders, a player who is third choice for his club and has featured in a handful of games this season and a player who is guarding the net in the Championship.
The days when Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton used to take turns while the likes of Joe Corrigan, who would be a shoo-in among today's crop, looked on from the outside are long gone.
English fans used to laugh at foreign keepers who could not catch despite launching into theatrical dives whereas Gordon Banks or Northern Ireland's Pat Jennings would extend an ungloved hand to snuff out the danger with the minimum of fuss.
But now most of the Premier League clubs have overseas keepers and opportunities for young, home-grown hopefuls are few and far between.
The national team have paid a heavy price in tournaments for hanging on to ageing goalkeepers too long, as the leaden-footed Shilton and David Seaman were found wanting just when it mattered in the twilight of their previously impressive careers.
Portsmouth's David James will be a few weeks from his 40th birthday at the World Cup but, such is the inability of anyone else to make an undeniable case for inclusion, he is likely to travel as first choice.
"Calamity James" produced a trademark howler last week when a wild air-shot at a simple kicked clearance allowed Didier Drogba to set Chelsea on their way to a 5-0 Premier League win.
Big, strong, intelligent and vastly experienced, James ticks most of the boxes for a tournament goalkeeper but as each minute of each match passes, England fans will nervously wonder how telling the inevitable blunder will be.
Goalkeeping errors are, by their nature, highlighted way above those by outfield players and England's posse are all known for their high-profile howlers.
Paul Robinson, England's keeper in the 2006 World Cup, has never really recovered from his own air shot - "it hit a divot" - in a Euro 2008 qualifying defeat in Croatia and though he soldiered on he was eventually dropped after another costly error against Russia.
In good form for Blackburn Rovers this season he has forced his way back into contention but he has never entirely given off the aura of a man in command.
Scott Carson also will forever be associated with his shocker against Croatia, when he let a speculative long-range Niko Kranjcar shot though after a few minutes' action and though he has played well for West Bromwich Albion in the Championship this season, he is likely to be competing for the third goalkeeping slot at best.
Ben Foster looked to be the up and coming prospect a few years ago but now, wallowing around Old Trafford as Manchester United's third-choice, he too is a talented player who would be a risk if suddenly entrusted with the World Cup in his fresh-out-of-the-packet gloves.
West Ham United's Rob Green, who once wore gloves with "England's number six" embroidered on them while Capello ignored him, has slowly moved up the order and is being kept busy as his club take a weekly battering in their slide down the table.
He, like most of the other pretenders, remains an excellent shot-stopper and though he lacks authority he will probably travel as understudy to James.
Joe Hart, 22, has made a late run on the rails with his impressive season on loan at Birmingham City and if he maintains that form to the end of the season has a real chance of a place on the plane.
If he makes it, it would not necessarily be a calamity if events conspired to leave England's hopes on his young shoulders.comments