England widemen vying to provide X-factor

LONDON - Any combination of midfielders should be strong enough for England to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup but if they are to make a real challenge for glory then someone is going to have to provide the X-factor.

England are blessed with two world-class central midfielders in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and though they have often failed to flourish in the same team, Fabio Capello seems to have developed a system where they can both make major contributions.

Where things start to get interesting is in the wide positions, especially on the right, where David Beckham's only role in South Africa after a career of selfless contribution in the position will be as a coaching assistant.

Capello has included Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joe Cole and uncapped Adam Johnson in his provisional 30-man squad and though it is highly unlikely they will all make the cut, three of them probably will.

If England are to deliver on Capello's target of reaching the final for the first time since 1966 then one or more of them is likely to have to deliver a career-defining run of performances.

The good news for the manager is that, on their day, all are fully capable of shredding the best defences.

The bad news is that, partly due to injuries, few have given much indication this season that they are about to do so.

Walcott probably travels as favourite to start thanks to his memorable hat-trick in a command performance when England thrashed Croatia 5-1 away in qualifying in 2008.

Still only 21 but a veteran of the 2006 World Cup when he did not play a minute, Walcott has pace and directness and can also play as a second striker.

However, he struggled to make an impact at Arsenal in a season wrecked by a variety of injuries and remains a long way from the finished article.

Razor-fast Lennon is a real old-school winger who delights in leaving full-backs for dead but all-too-often does not deliver a telling cross.

He too has missed large parts of the season but if fit and firing he can be almost impossible to defend against and Capello knows that either man remains a potentially potent weapon.

Wright-Phillips has remarkable ball control and though he sometimes appears to have no idea where he is going it is just as often the case that nor do his opponents.

TRICKY DRIBBLING

His six-year England career had brought 30 caps without him ever earning a regular berth but Capello might view his tricky dribbling as ideal to introduce off the bench against tiring defenders.

Johnson has ghosted into the squad on the back of a few good months at Manchester City where Capello has been impressed by his confidence and maturity.

He does not have the raw pace of Lennon or Walcott but has better delivery, is more two-footed and seems more in tune with the demands of his front men.

Johnson will be given a chance in friendlies against Mexico and Japan where a good showing could continue his meteoric rise and get him on the plane to South Africa.

Cole, who just did enough at the end of another injury-hit season for a call-up, has always performed well in an England shirt during his nine-year international career and is another with the undoubted ability to beat a man.

His versatility and international pedigree might help secure him a place on the bench in the World Cup, though he is more likely to operate on the left.

Wayne Rooney thrives on any sort of service but Capello's thinking is also likely to be influenced by who he sees alongside his main striker.

Small-but-sharp Jermain Defoe demands a different sort of supply line than the giant Peter Crouch and though England have suffered from a lack of a Plan B in the past, Capello is unlikely to be found wanting if things need changing.

The idea of Lennon fizzing to the byline in extra-time to hoist over a cross for substitute Crouch to nod in might be old-style English football but the Italian master tactician, and England fans, will take their goals any way they come.

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