Flags and over-optimism – it’s our national sport

HERE we go then. Time to wave the flag, set up the telly and indulge – for a couple of weeks at least – in another national bout of over-optimism.

The friendlies, the qualifiers, the arguing over who goes – they’re all over. The real action starts here.

Well, for England it starts tomorrow in the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg.

And against a team that includes a Watford defender, a Bolton reserve midfielder and a striker who scored twice in 30 games for Hull last season, you’d have to feel Fabio Capello’s side have more than an even chance. (That’s Jay DeMerit, Stuart Holden and Jozy Altidore.)

The one area where the USA look stronger than England is in goal.

I’d pick Everton’s Tim Howard or Wolves’ Marcus Hahnemann over any of the three keepers in the England squad.

In fact, if I were Capello I’d have taken three different goalkeepers – not David James, Robert Green and Joe Hart, but Paul Robinson, Chris Kirkland and Steve Harper.

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Of course I’d have given them all a few games first. And England would still have looked weaker in that crucial position than Spain, Italy, Brazil or the US.

Broadly speaking, you have to say Capello has got the outfield squad about right.

Darren Bent may be unlucky. The second highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League (24 goals) is left behind while Emile Heskey (three) gets a chance to improve his abysmal England strike rate (58 caps, seven goals).

But then, however much we may love him as one of our own, can anyone who regularly watched Bent in an Ipswich shirt picture him as a World Cup winner?

Heskey’s chief contribution may have happened already. It was his tackle in training that cost England the man who was to have been captain.

And who is to say that Michael Dawson, the replacement for Rio Ferdinand, isn’t a better defender right now anyway?

If England are to have a hope of winning the trophy, someone will have to excel themselves in defence, and it could just be the uncapped Dawson.

For most in the oldest squad England have ever taken to a major tournament, this is now-or-never time.

Very few of this lot will be around in 2014, when James Milner, a World Cup rookie this time, will likely be captain.

One survivor will surely be Wayne Rooney.

But now is the time for the Manchester United star – 60 caps already at age 24 – to show he really is one of the world’s best.

If he does that – and keeps a lid on his explosive temper – maybe the dream isn’t impossible this time.

Either way, let’s enjoy the show, not just England’s part in it.

Not just players such as Messi, Kaka, Ribery, Ronaldo and Torres, whose star quality we already know about. But those we haven’t heard of yet who will light up the tournament on behalf of Cameroon, Chile, Slovenia or one of the Koreas.

I’m looking forward to the clash between Brazil and Ivory Coast on June 20. Before that, tomorrow’s game between Argentina and Nigeria should be much more than a curtain-raiser for the England game to follow.

It may provide a clue as to how far Argentina can profit from having the world’s best array of attacking skill (Messi, Milito, Tevez). Or how much they’ll be hampered by having the World Cup’s most incompetent coach (Maradona).

England-USA won’t tell us much about anything, except perhaps our boys’ collective mental state.

Form and history suggest England should reach the last eight. It will be a disappointment if they don’t.

Once there, let’s hope Capello has found a way to clear the mental demons from the players representing the country with the worst record of any in penalty shoot-outs.

I FEEL very sorry for the Koupparis family and hope their baby twins recover soon and fully from their injuries.

But the public response to one incredibly rare – one might say unique – incident is as hysterical as it’s predictable.

Foxes are wild creatures and this one clearly panicked in an unfamiliar threatening situation.

There is another creature about the size of a fox, much commoner, potentially as dangerous and overall a much greater nuisance. They are rife on the streets and bold enough to enter homes deliberately.

So, a cull of cats, anyone?

DAVID Cameron promises cuts that will change the whole British way of life.

Bet it won’t impinge too much on him and his fellow-millionaire buddies.

Kind of him, though, to ask us all what we’d like to see privatised “to save money”. (Since when did giving things away to business save money?)

I’m quite clear on this, so I can tell you now, David.

Government money shouldn’t be wasted on things that aren’t needed.

So no cash to bankers, the nuclear industry or weapons manufacturing.

On the other hand, nothing that is needed should be trusted to private enterprise.

So time to take the water, electricity and gas services, the railways, the Post Office and all those bits of the NHS that have been surreptitiously given away, back into public ownership, where they belong.

And hands off our schools.