Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Capello has to kick-start spluttering England

SoccerNews in English Premier League, World Cup 6 Sep 2008

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Fabio Capello heads into England's first World Cup qualifier against Andorra on Saturday with his reputation on the line.

After five friendlies gave Capello a crash course in the trials and tribulations of life as an England manager, now the serious business begins on the road to the 2010 World Cup.

When Capello took charge last year, his impressive CV was presented by the FA as proof that the Italian was worth every bit of his six million pounds a year contract.

But, as Capello is already discovering, even domestic and European titles at Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus don't provide a guarantee of success with international football's great underachievers.

The jeers that cascaded down from the Wembley stands after last month's friendly draw against the Czech Republic brought an abrupt end to Capello's honeymoon period.

For the first time in his short reign, Capello's tactics were questioned by fans and pundits. Reports that several of England players felt exhausted during the Czech match as a result of Capello's dietary regime hardly eased the feeling that his hardline approach is starting to cause cracks.

On the face of it, his first competitive fixture, against Andorra's part-timers in Barcelona, represents the perfect chance to silence the doubters.

But as Capello's predecessor Steve McClaren can testify, the players of the tiny principality won't be a push-over.

It is 18 months since McClaren and his team were subjected to venomous abuse in the Spanish city after struggling to beat Andorra in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

Another lacklustre performance this time would be greeted with an equally unsympathetic reaction that could destabilise England ahead of their crucial tie against Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday.

Capello desperately needs to see signs that his side are heading in the right direction against Andorra but he will be relying on team shorn of several key players.

With Wayne Rooney still unable to transfer his club form to an England shirt, Capello's decision to axe Michael Owen was baffling to say the least.

The Newcastle striker is only just back from a calf injury but he has already scored twice and remains England's only proven goalscorer.

Capello will pair Rooney with Jermain Defoe but, while the Portsmouth striker could fill his boots against Andorra, he has rarely troubled top level opposition, which doesn't bode well for the Croatia clash.

The absence of injured midfielders Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick means Gareth Barry is likely to line-up alongside Frank Lampard in the centre of the park, although there could be a first cap at some stage for Fulham's Jimmy Bullard.

Barry showed signs of blossoming into a key figure under McClaren but has yet to reproduce that form for Capello. The Aston Villa star knows it is time for the entire squad to start delivering.

“This is an important few days for us and hopefully we've done enough work to be ready,” Barry said.

“We know what type of game it's going to be. They'll get all bodies behind the ball. From experience last time they were tough to crack but we'll be looking for a good start to the campaign.

“We know these are the games we get judged on, so there is no chance of us not being sharp. These are qualifying games; the work we've done this week has set us up to perform in these matches.

“Us the players, the staff, the manager, we'll all get judged on what happens over the next few days and we're confident we can get the job done.”

Rio Ferdinand will travel to Barcelona despite missing two days of training in midweek with a stiff back.

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