Capello finds winning formula

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LONDON - England's second accomplished victory within a week may not have erased the bitter memory of a woeful World Cup campaign but the dark clouds hanging over coach Fabio Capello's head are showing signs of dissipating.

Injuries and retirements may have forced the Italian's hand but England's performances in the 4-0 home win against Bulgaria and Tuesday's 3-1 win against Switzerland in Basel have been a breath of fresh air and even Capello appears to be having fun.

Whether by design or by accident, England suddenly look like a team capable of shaking off years of under-achievement.

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When substitute Darren Bent rammed in England's third goal to put Capello's side top of Euro 2012 qualifying Group G, his grizzled face broke into a broad smile and he cheekily poked out his tongue at goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence.

It was a moment of spontaneity that matched much of the play of his team, which while still set up in traditional 4-4-2 formation, suddenly looks to have shed the straight-jacket that suffocated their soccer in South Africa.

Emile Heskey's retirement from international football and the injury to Peter Crouch meant Capello had no option but to abandon his preference for a target man and play Jermain Defoe in unison with a deeper-lying Wayne Rooney.

Immediately the dynamic was changed.

Long aerial passes, of which Steven Gerrard often used to over-play, became pointless and the emphasis was on quick incisive passing into the feet of mobile strikers.

It worked a treat and the only surprise was that England failed to add to the early opener scored by Rooney -- his first competitive goal for his country for nearly a year.

PERFECT DISPLAY

Rooney's vision is wasted when he leads the line chasing down the channels and his movement and passing against Bulgaria was a reminiscent of his Manchester United team mate Paul Scholes at his best.

Skipper Gerrard clearly reveled in his role too, which was more akin to the position he plays to such effect with Liverpool and the dilemma Capello now faces is what happens when Frank Lampard, ruled out through injury, is fit again?

"The first half was perfect - everything the manager asked of us," Gerrard, who played in the lively Adam Johnson for England's second goal, said after the game.

"We got the game plan spot on. People were talking about how good Switzerland are, defensively, but we just tore them apart."

Manchester City's Johnson, who replaced the injured Theo Walcott early on, has scored in both Euro 2012 qualifiers and oozes composure, having stepped up from the under 21s with fellow City player James Milner, another player to impress.

England's defence coped easily without John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, although the likes of Michael Dawson, who was injured against Bulgaria, Everton's Phil Jagielka and Manchester City's Joleon Lescott will face much sterner tests.

With England already in a commanding position in the group, Capello will now turn his thoughts to the visit of Montenegro next month - the Balkan side having emerged as the unlikely challengers for top spot after also winning their opening games.

England should now qualify with something to spare from a group that suddenly looks very enticing but, after all, that is the bare minimum requirement for a coach costing the Football Association a staggering amount of money each year.

It is when the pressure is really on and the fear of losing becomes intense that players and managers often revert to type.

So until England qualify for Euro 2012 and prove that they can also play vibrant football against teams like Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, when it really matters, Capello will still be shadowed by the bitter memories of South Africa.

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