Capello's England looking real deal at last

LONDON - When Fabio Capello met the English media for the first time in January last year he said his first ambition was to qualify for the World Cup finals.

At the time it was far from a foregone conclusion. England had only recently failed to make Euro 2008 after a shattering 3-2 home qualifing defeat by Croatia, and, skipper John Terry said this week the team were at one of our lowest ever points.

The turnaround has surprised even Capello. England's outstanding 5-1 win over Croatia on Wednesday sealed their place in the World Cup and the contrast between the two matches 22 months apart could hardly be greater.

Then disorganised and without conviction, England endured a shattering defeat after fighting back from conceding two early goals to level the mach at 2-2 - enough to qualify.

But with 13 minutes to play, Croatia scored, went on to win the match and changed the course of English football for the immediate future.

The following day coach Steve McClaren was sacked after only 18 matches in charge, Capello was appointed three weeks later, began work officially in early January 2008 and qualified for the World Cup with two matches to spare on Wednesday. It has been quite a turnaround.

A direct statistical comparison of their records shows the improvement under Capello who has now been in charge of England for 18 matches too.

McLaren's 18 games produced nine wins, four draws and five defeats with a goal tally of 32-12.

Under Capello England have won 14, drawn twice and lost twice with a goal tally of 50-14.



Many of the players in Capello's team and indeed, in his squad, also played under McClaren, but the approach now bears little resemblance to the shambles under his reign.

This team makes fewer mistakes and plays with an understanding and confidence they never displayed when McClaren was in charge.

Although questions still remain, including the goalkeeper and right back positions, there is real faith in Capello finding the right answers.

David Triesman, the FA chairman, told Reuters: "He is in control of everything and the master of the squad. Nothing is left to chance -- and he is an inspirational, charismatic leader."

While he still has more than nine months to fine-tune things before the World Cup, his team already has a balance and positional discipline missing in the past.


David Beckham, who played under Capello at Real Madrid, has become a squad regular again under the Italian after being mostly overlooked by McLaren, believes that Capello has given the players their self-belief back.

"One of the reasons we are playing as well as we are is because we believe in ourselves again. What he has done is brought the belief back to the players and the trust back with the fans," he said.

In the view of many of the squad, there are both footballing and non-footballing reasons for the improvements on the pitch.

Every England player over the last 18 months has had the same message when explaining to the media how things have become more organised since he took over.