“This draw will shape the long-term direction of English football, pointing the motherland of the game towards sun-lit heights or the depths of despair. So much rides on some pot luck.” – Henry Winter

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “It’s starting, yes. For me it’s the first time I’ve breathed this atmosphere of the World Cup, the sensation, I can taste it. The airport, the people, the Fifa World Cup, Bafana Bafana, it’s exciting, yes… I’ve worked for this. It’s my job. Yes – all my life, I want to reach the final. I have big confidence in my team, always. We’ve played against the best teams in the world. I know the value of the opponents, I know the value of my team. It’s my first World Cup. I hope it’s not the last.” – Fabio Capello.

Runner-up: “I have a great deal of respect for United fans, and I won’t celebrate if I score against them. For me, the most important thing is for the best team to win, and I hope that will be us. I’d be delighted if we could beat United and reach the final — it’s going to be a classic — but I still have some respect for the club and what they did for me so I wouldn’t want to rub their noses in it.” – Carlos Tevez.

Today’s overview: The spat between Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes takes up a few column inches but in general the backpages are covered in pre-World Cup draw hype.

Some journos look back on Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester City in the Carling Cup. Tony Cascarino gets the ball rolling, laying into Arsene Wenger. “Rude, arrogant — it’s another poor show in a week in which he paid Didier Drogba the most backhanded of compliments after the Chelsea striker’s fine performance on Sunday. Wenger just can’t bring himself to be gracious. When did he last say anything truly generous about an opponent? He receives loads of accolades from all quarters, but how many does he give out?”

David Hytner adds on the Frenchman: “The Arsenal manager can sometimes appear paranoid and he believes the world has turned against him over the past four weeks. His frustration has been building and his fit of pique at Eastlands, after the 3-0 Carling Cup quarter-final defeat, was further fall-out from a period that has prompted intense soul-searching.”

Amy Lawrence describes the whole episode as a “very English outrage.” “Hughes said afterwards that Wenger ‘should have been more gracious’. It was almost brilliant in its audacity. Naturally, the English media lapped it up, and Wenger woke up to another of the handshake storms that seem to exist in a strange microclimate over the UK. Rafael Benítez and José Mourinho have experienced them before, as well as Wenger on previous occasions. Do these foreign managers not realise that disrespect for the handshake is a heinous sin punishable by 20 lashes in the great British heartland of fair play?”

Charles Sale in the Daily Mail reveals what we all suspected would happen. Sven Goran Eriksson is set to walk out on Notts County. “Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson is on the brink of quitting as director of football at Notts County because he is not being paid the full amount of his seven-figure contract. His dispute with the owners of the financially-stricken League Two club is due to come to a head over the next week. Unless Eriksson is persuaded that the money owed to him will eventually appear, he will walk out of Meadow Lane. The Swede, who signed a five-year deal worth £2million a season in July, has a two-tier agreement with Notts under which the club pay a proportion of his salary in keeping with their lowly status.”

Away from domestic matters, the World Cup draw dominates with a whole host of articles on England and the teams to avoid in South Africa.

Henry Winter outlines the imortance of today’s draw. “This draw will shape the long-term direction of English football, pointing the motherland of the game towards sun-lit heights or the depths of despair. So much rides on some pot luck. The sport stands at a crossroads. If the draw is kind, if John Terry’s team progress far across the veld, then all the game’s domestic problems will be forgotten.” The Sun add to the build-up to the draw with stories claiming the 32 World Cup nations will share £250m next summer and that 200 million people will watch the draw today. 

Matt Dickinson speaks to Gareth Barry about the challenge of next summer. “Gareth Barry smiles when asked to recall what praise he has received from Capello during the months when he has become a regular starter, a stalwart of the England team. ‘Something nice he’s said to me? I can’t think of one,’ Barry concedes after a bit of head-scratching. ‘A handshake, maybe?'” Many of the papers latch on to quotes from Fabio Capello that he is unhappy with England’s training camp for the WC.

Harry Redknapp backs England to win the World Cup, because there will be no WAGs to cause a distraction. “The players will be training every day, playing every few days and there can be little time for anything else I am afraid. It’s tough luck maybe – but it is what the team needs. What they do not need is the distraction of a load of women hanging around them all the time. Most blokes do not take their wives to work. I’m not sexist, it’s just that the World Cup needs utmost concentration to give the players the focus needed to win it.”

Also in The Sun, Steven Howard backs the Three Lions to get out the group. “It’s not today’s first-round draw that is the problem – unless we get the Group of Death – but what happens when we progress beyond it. As England have done in all nine World Cups they have competed in since 1958.”

Oliver Kay followed David Beckham on his trip in South Africa. “Beckham is here, in the part of Khayelitsha known as Site B, on behalf of the FA’s “Coaching for Hope” project, which aspires to use football to create better futures for youngsters in Africa. For security reasons, his visit to the Ikhusi Primary School has been kept secret, but, as with any close-knit community, word travels quickly. When he arrives, a dozen children and teenagers are watching in disbelief from the other side of the fence. Within ten minutes the throng has swollen tenfold and hysterical screams of ‘Beckham’ threaten to drown out his question-and-answer session with those children lucky enough to be inside the fence.”

Matt Lawton also joined Goldenballs yesterday. “There were other places David Beckham could have been yesterday. With his family in London grieving the loss of his grandfather. Or at home in Los Angeles nursing the foot injury he rather hopes will not delay his first appearance for AC Milan. But he was here in Cape Town, performing the role of figurehead and ambassador on behalf of England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup and moving seamlessly between the glitz and glamour of FIFA and the abject poverty that still exists on the outskirts of this stunning city. ‘Mr Posh’ was how one woman greeted him when he made his way across a plastic pitch that has somehow appeared in the centre of South Africa’s largest township.” 

Kevin McCarra pinpoints Ivory Coast as the team to avoid. “It is Ivory Coast who could spread panic. They have power, score freely, are well-served by proven performers and should yearn to atone for elimination in the group phase in 2006. Rivals could be reduced to praying that the Premier League drains someone like Didier Drogba between now and the summer. It would be a relief to them if Chelsea had the debilitating experience of going far in the domestic and European campaigns.”

Cameroon World Cup legend Roger Milla adds Ghana to the Ivory Coast as the Africans to avoid. “On the field, everyone is equal,” Milla said. “It’s no longer the Brazil, Italy or France we saw 10 years ago. It’s 50-50. The English, French, Italian players play in the major championships in Europe alongside African players. It will be the teams with the best preparation who go furthest.”

Owen Gibson gives a history lesson on the importance of football in South Africa, after visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. “Little known until it was made into a film, More Than a Game, two years ago, the story of the prisoners who fought to have access to a sport that gave them hope remains inspirational no matter how many times it is told. The league ran in various forms from 1966 until the prison was closed in 1991.”

Due to the World Cup draw there is not a whole lot of transfer gossip. The Daily Mail’s Simon Cass makes up the story that Chelsea and Arsenal are fighting over Mario Balotelli. The Mirror claim Spurs are closing in on Swiss keeper Eldin Jakupovic.