Theo Walcott was playing golf when he got a call at noon yesterday from England boss Fabio Capello, to tell he didn't have a seat on the plane to South Africa tonight. He had featured prominantly in his M&S Marks and Spencer grey team suit and in Nike and other advertisements.
At 21 years old the young Gunner would expect to be going after he was in the 2006 squad as a 17 year old under former boss Sven-Goran Eriksson. Evidently the Italian was angry at the young winger not sticking to game plan in the warm-up games and cutting inside instead of playing wide as he had been instructed. Two years ago in Zagreb he had helped defeat the Croatians with a blitz of a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory, but that was some time ago.
Seven players got the call either from Capello or his assistant Franco Baldini to hear the bad news. It was better news for Shaun-Wright Phillips and Aaron Lennon who got the nod, and for Joe Cole, who can play left, right and attacking midfield despite being a non starter at champions Chelsea at the end of the season. Gareth Barry is hopefully fit by the second match while Ledley King is also a bit of an injury risk.
The opening match for The Three Lions is against USA who did so well last year in The Confederations Cup. Capello and other team managers have until 24 hours before their first games to replace an injured players, but not after that. Star man Wayne Rooney is the only certain starter in attack, partnering with Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch and maybe Jermain Defoe coming off the bench.
It's the oldest World Cup squad ever to represent England, and the most experienced. An average age of 28.7 with 900 international caps between them. The previous record was in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, the first I ever saw on television. With Stan Matthews 39 years old, the average age was 28.4. Although the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Soccer City on June 11th, with South Africa playing Mexico, it will be the game the next evening in Rustenburg near the England training camp at the Royal Bafokeng Nation that excites the fans in England who may have 20,000 followers in the stadium there.
Shops in England are plastered with posters, flags, displays and all stores are selling souvenir wigs, car ornaments, capes, hat, face paint, earings, musical can openers, and it will be Mars bars for England v Snickers for the USA. Every aged former England player with or without false teeth or hair on their heads have been roled out in the varied and amusing commercials. I am not sure how the rest of the world is getting the fever.
Evidently North Koreans won't see any live action, and only highlights if they win a game. I was at Ayresome Park, Middlesborough in 1966 when Pak Doo-Ik scored the only goal in their third group match and sent Italy home early. Who will suprise and shock the world this year?