Capello happy at last as England cut loose

LONDON - Fabio Capello said the opening 20 minutes of England's 5-1 demolition of Croatia on Wednesday was the team's best spell of the entire qualifying campaign.

England tore out of the blocks at Wembley, with and without the ball, and took an immediate stranglehold on the game.

A Frank Lampard penalty after seven minutes and a header by Steven Gerrard effectively settled the match and secured qualification for the World Cup with two games to spare.

Another goal apiece for the two midfielders and a late one for Wayne Rooney completed the job and, following the 4-1 victory in Zagreb a year ago, brought ample revenge for Croatia's victory here in 2007 which took them to the European championship at England's expense.

That defeat spelt the end of Steve McClaren and opened the door for Capello, who has created an entirely different attitude within largely the same group of players.

"That was the best 20 minutes of the qualification games, fantastic," the Italian told reporters.

"We pressed a lot when the opponents had the ball and when we had it the quality of the passing was very, very good.

"We trained very well yesterday and the faces of the players were different," said Capello, who's team looked very flat in last Saturday's 2-1 friendly win over Slovenia.

"The spirit, the concentration in every moment, the movement - I was happy with everything," he said.

Having won all eight qualifying games to date, scoring 31 goals in the process, the inevitable question about England's chances of winning the World Cup soon came up.

"It will not be easy, I know the problems of playing in a World Cup, but we have time," he said.

"The important thing is that the physical condition is the same as it is now and we have to always play with the spirit of tonight but the expectation is always the same with England."

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic did little to dampen it when he said England could win it.

"I would like to congratulate them on a fantastic performance and, based on tonight, then of course," he said when asked if they could go all the way.

"Even before the first goal they looked the sharper, more aggressive side and the two early goals lifted them and we became even more insecure."

Bilic said he knew his side faced a tough task without "three or four key players" but was still stunned by the apparent gulf in class.

"Not in our worst nightmare were we expecting this kind of defeat," he said.

"The atmosphere in our dressing room is down, this was not a normal defeat...we simply can't find anything to hold on to."

Croatia still have a chance of finishing second in Group Six and earning a place in the playoffs. They have 17 points from nine games ahead of Ukraine on 15 from eight.

"Luckily our next game is not in three or four days," Bilic said. "Our players have good character, that has lifted us to become what we have become but we are going to come back for the game against Kazakhstan."