Capello completes confidence recovery

LONDON - A superb series of results, a massive lift in confidence and the development of fringe players into worthy front-line internationals is not a bad return for Fabio Capello's first year as England manager.

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When the Italian was appointed last December England were in the doldrums.

Their failure to qualify for Euro 2008 led to the departure of Steve McClaren and the public were widely disenchanted at the attitude and performance of the supposed "world class" players who seemed to give their all only for their clubs.

Now, with Wednesday's 2-1 friendly victory in Germany capping a fizzing start to their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, it is all very different.

"When I started my job I said we have to recover our confidence," Capello said. "The players understand this and we saw it during the game and before that during training.

"The players know what I want from them during games and what they have to do."

It sounds a simple requirement but under McClaren's hapless reign it was seemingly a task too far for the millionaires of the Premier League.

McClaren, promoted to the top job after assisting Sven-Goran Eriksson, was never able to convince the players or public that he knew best but there is no doubt now about who is in charge.

Capello oozes a quiet self-confidence built on a career of achievement at the top level and it seems England's players have responded.

After a steady but unspectacular start Capello was starting to attract the usual British media vitriol after a disappointing friendly draw with the Czech Republic and then a laboured 2-0 win over Andorra in the World Cup.

But the stunning 4-1 win in Croatia, followed by further success against Kazakhstan and Belarus to put England in command of their group, quickly silenced the doubters.

Alongside those results and the headline-grabbling exploits of Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney, Capello has quietly developed England's "B team" and, as was shown to great effect in Berlin, there is now for the first time in a long time, some sort of strength in depth.

Rooney, Walcott, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey were all absent but while in the past that would immediately reduce England to also-rans Capello used the situation to his advantage and reaped a handsome dividend.

Michael Carrick, Stewart Downing and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who have trod the international boards before without ever really looking the part, suddenly strode around as if they had star billing, while Gareth Barry also played with renewed confidence.

Up front Gabriel Agbonlahor grabbed his chance with an pacey debut to give a much-needed option in the case of Rooney's regular injury absences.

By calling up the likes of Micah Richards and Michael Mancienne, the Chelsea defender currently on-loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers and yet to play in the Premier League and again overlooking the rusty Michael Owen, Capello also underlined his stated commitment to form over reputation.

There will be no talk of winning tournaments under the Italian's control but, slowly and surely, he is rebuilding England into a team that might just find a way to overcome their quarter-final phobia.

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