England can win the World Cup in South Africa next year, Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said Wednesday.
Of course, so can Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and possibly a dark horse or two, but confidence is riding particularly high on England’s national soccer team.
“You have to go into a competition believing that you can go all the way,” Beckham said before the Galaxy’s morning training session.
“I believe that we’ve got a chance -- if we play like we’ve been playing and have that togetherness that we’ve shown all the way through the qualifiers. You need a certain amount of luck along the way, of course, but we have got the players and we have got the team. Everything is set up right. It’s only down to the players to perform.”
England will qualify for the 2010 World Cup if it defeats or ties Croatia in London on Sept. 9 in its eighth of 10 qualifying matches. The game at Wembley Stadium has more meaning than just that though.
It was Croatia that prevented England from qualifying for Euro 2008 when it scored a 3-2 victory in London in November 2007.
“Last time we played Croatia at Wembley, it wasn’t a great time,” Beckham said, “so a lot of England fans will want us to win the game for those reasons.
“But I think it’s important that we don’t think about that, that we concentrate on winning the game and looking at the big picture because it gets us to the biggest football competition in the world.”
England has won all seven of its World Cup qualifying games -- among Europe’s 53 national teams, only the Spanish and Dutch also are unbeaten and untied -- and outscored its opponents, 26-4.
One reason for England’s success has been the hiring of Italian Fabio Capello as manager. He took over in December 2007 after previously coaching Real Madrid and has gone 12-2-2 in his 20 months in charge.
“He’s changed the mentality of the players,” Beckham said. “Not just him, but his coaching staff. The way the players prepare themselves, the way we spend the week together, is very serious, very concentrated.
“It’s working because we’re not just winning games, we’re together as a team. The spirit is great.
“Even when we’ve come in at halftime and we’re not winning, there’s that spirit that you can feel. That’s what the manager has done. He’s given players confidence.”
Capello’s reputation as a disciplinarian also has had an impact, and the whip-cracking, Beckham said, “is what we needed.”
Capello also has forged a camaraderie that can be invaluable in the pressure cooker of a World Cup.
“It’s always tough when you’re playing for your country and you’re only coming together once a month or once every couple of months,” Beckham said. “But he’s brought something to the players where when we come together it’s like you’ve seen them the day before.”
Beckham, who has made 113 appearances for England, has played in 13 of the 16 games Capello has coached, starting six. Even so, he does not believe his place in South Africa is secure.
“No one’s a certain call-up,” Beckham said. “In my eyes it’s always been like that. You have to earn your place, not just in the starting 11, you have to earn your place in the squad. If you’re not performing, if you’re not playing well, this manager just won’t pick you. It’s as simple as that.”
If he does play in South Africa it will be Beckham’s fourth World Cup and, because he will then be 35, it will also be the former England captain’s last chance to win the trophy that has eluded his country since its only triumph in 1966.
At the ’98 World Cup in France, Beckham was red-carded during England’s second-round penalty-kick loss to Argentina. He broke his foot before Korea/Japan ’02, recovered in time to play, but saw England ousted by eventual champion Brazil in the quarterfinals.
At Germany ’06, England again reached the quarterfinals but again lost on penalty kicks, this time to Portugal, with Beckham substituted at halftime because of an ankle injury.
“1998 was not my most favorite one,” Beckham said. “Germany was tough because the expectations were so high and we didn’t make it.
“I think I enjoyed Japan and Korea when we had it there. It wasn’t ideal because I’d just come back from a broken foot, but to score in the Argentina game and win that game” was satisfying.
With only 10 months until South Africa 2010, the odds are that Beckham will be there. But it’s no certainty.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “There’s still a long time to go.”