Was Capello right to sideline Spurs stars in England World Cup exit?

AS THE dust settles on yet another disappointing World Cup campaign, the inevitable inquest begins, and a disillusioned country roots through the wreckage to find the perpetrators of this latest crime against national pride...

By Ben Pearce

AS THE dust settles on yet another disappointing World Cup campaign, the inevitable inquest begins, and a disillusioned country roots through the wreckage to find the perpetrators of this latest crime against national pride.

The Three Lions' dismal display in South Africa was undoubtedly a team effort. But there is one individual who definitely has some questions to answer - the highest-paid man at the World Cup, Fabio Capello.

Many have questioned the Italian's methods, tactics and team selections - and some of his Tottenham contingent are sure to feel aggrieved.

It would, of course, be ludicrous to suggest that England failed because their Spurs stars were marginalised.

Michael Dawson has never played at international level, and his lack of experience justifiably left him as a last resort who was never needed.

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Capello was also right to leave Aaron Lennon on the side-lines against Germany. The Spurs winger under-performed against the USA and Algeria, and James Milner proved to be more effective.

However, it would have been interesting to have been a fly on the England dug-out in the final moments of Sunday's defeat as Jermain Defoe, Ledley King and Peter Crouch seethed in angry frustration.

Crouch, in particular, must be livid at his treatment. The 6ft 7ins forward certainly believed he had done enough to earn a leading role at the World Cup, which could have been his last.

"All I can do is give my best and that's how I feel I have done whenever I've played for England," he said before the tournament. "I'd love to start in the first game at the World Cup. These are massive massive games. I'm 29 now and I don't know if I'll get another one.

"Perhaps there's more respect for me going into this one. I'm going into the World Cup scoring a lot more goals for England. I felt I did well at the last World Cup."

Crouch may have been referring to his vital 82nd-minute header against Trinidad & Tobago, which broke the deadlock just when it seemed that England were heading for a 0-0 draw with the group's African whipping boys in their second game - a familiar scenario, but with a happy ending.

That victory gave the Three Lions their place in the last 16 with a game to spare and, having topped their group, they faced Ecuador - and won.

Four years later, England are still cursing their inability to beat Algeria, when Capello gave Crouch a mere six minutes at the end.

The Spurs striker, who has scored 21 goals in 40 England appearances, played a grand total of 17 minutes at the World Cup. Emile Heskey, who has struck just seven in 62 games, got 176.

Three weeks ago Crouch seemed to have every chance of a starting berth against the USA. Instead he was the fourth choice striker.

Having spent much of his England career trying to lose his 'super-sub' tag, the Spurs striker found himself praying for a late entrance against Germany - and was ignored.

Capello's justification is that Heskey gets the best out of Rooney. Well didn't that go well. Over the four games, the only striker who scored was Defoe.

And, when England found themselves 4-1 down against Germany, Defoe came off - not for Crouch, but for Heskey. The Spurs pair must have been raging and, sitting next to them, King may well have been confused by his own omission.

The Tottenham captain had been out for two weeks with a groin injury. However, he had declared himself fit for the clash with Germany - and, as Harry Redknapp will testify, that means you pick him.

King is a special case with a remarkable ability to pick up where he left off after injury, with no real loss of form - he inspired Spurs to their 2-1 win over Arsenal in April in his first game back from a seven-week lay-off.

Critics will claim that the King gamble failed, but he was always likely to miss a game or two. He was never going to play throughout the tournament.

The point in taking King, it seemed, was that the Spurs skipper would be an invaluable asset whenever he was available, a big-game player who could make all the difference in a one-off match - and particularly in the knock-out stages. That day came on Sunday, King was ready, but he was overlooked.

Capello's own pecking order dictated that King should have played. He was the number one choice alongside John Terry in the opening match against the USA, and he said he was fit on Sunday.

The one argument that Capello could offer is that, having had to replace King at half-time against the USA, he could not risk being forced into another early substitution against Germany, not when extra-time and penalties were on the agenda.

Fair enough, but in that case he should not have taken King to South Africa. He knew the situation and he took the risk.

Capello's choice to omit King is also contradicted by his decision to field Gareth Barry and Wayne Rooney, who both looked short of fitness.

The Italian apparently decided that he needed his best players on the pitch, even if they were not at 100 per cent. So why was it a different rule when it came to King, whose pace would have been invaluable on Sunday?

And why did the Italian leapfrog Jamie Carragher in his most important team selection, alighting instead on Matthew Upson, his fourth choice at the start of the tournament? It proved to be a disastrous error.

Having dominated the England squad, Tottenham's Lions will return to Spurs Lodge with their tails between their legs, disappointed and, in some cases, rather angry. Because in the end they, like us, were forced to sit and helplessly watch the death throes of England's World Cup dream.