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Blimey. We're quite good.


The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London

Well, if he meant that we no longer play artless, stone-age football, devoid of movement and guile, then he hit the nail on the head. If his idea of 'Englishness', is to canter through games as if the result has already been secured by the power of reputation and the size of the pay-cheque, then there's no argument from me. England certainly didn't look much like England on Wednesday night.

A typical English manager would have bowed to media pressure and replaced Emile Heskey with Jermain Defoe, but Fabio Capello stood firm. The shape and welfare of the team was more important than the cause of the individual. Heskey held the line superbly, knocking the ball into space with his head, or at one point, with a delicate backheel on the edge of the box. He dragged the larger defenders out of the way to create space for his team-mates, selflessly working for his comrades. Of his two golden chances to score, he was denied first by a superb save, a real textbook piece of goalkeeping, and then by his peculiar habit of falling over in front of the target. England can put up with that. Yes, Defoe would have scored at least one of them, but how many chances would he have created for anyone else? More to the point, how many times did England make the ball stick in the final third when Heskey departed?

And then there's Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. In recent years, you could have defined 'Englishness' as an inability to realise potential, or a failure to acknowledge that they could be more than the sum of their parts. Capello has brought the team together. For the first time, Gerrard looked comfortable out on the left flank, cutting in. With Gareth Barry back to maintain the balance in the centre, Lampard was free to do what he does best. Finally, this was a group of exceptionally talented footballers playing as a team, using their individual strengths to compensate for the weaknesses of others. Bilic was right. England have lost their Englishness. And not a moment too soon.


Simplicity. Capello started with the basics and went from there. Working from the theory that if a team is disciplined off the pitch, they'll be disciplined on it, he brought in a new code of conduct that was light years away from the laissez-faire 'summer-camp' attitude of Steve McClaren. Then he told the players to pass the ball to each other, not the opposition. It wasn't rocket science. Once the squad was settled, playing simple football, it was only a matter of time before the confidence grew. Capello refused to allow himself to be distracted by dissenting voices in the media and no player dared to challenge him in public. Wednesday's stunning victory is the end result of simple, effective leadership.


Steady on! England look like a very good team, but World Cups are wonderfully illogical tournaments. History is littered with superb teams who missed out on immortality because of nerves, a nasty injury, a bad refereeing decision or just simple bad luck. All Capello can do is pick a strong squad, prepare them well and then react as well as he can to whatever disasters impact upon his plans. There's no doubt in my mind that England possess just as much of a threat as Holland, Spain and Brazil, the other three favourites, but that means nothing if a perfectly good goal is disallowed, or if the ball moves from the penalty spot during a shoot-out. Flushed with success, Capello's greatest challenge now is to manage the enormous expectations of the nation.