Neil Trainis analyses England's first game under Fabio Capello
PUBLISHED: 13:15 07 February 2008 | UPDATED: 14:10 02 July 2010
2008 Getty Images
FRIENDLY matches seldom generate optimism and expectations of taking the world by storm should be quelled but a first look at Fabio Capello s England at Wembley on Wednesday night certainly provided moments of intrigue. Ten minutes before half time, there
FRIENDLY matches seldom generate optimism and expectations of taking the world by storm should be quelled but a first look at Fabio Capello's England at Wembley on Wednesday night certainly provided moments of intrigue.
Ten minutes before half time, there was a glimpse into the future under the pragmatic Italian coach with the designer eyewear, a fleeting taste of the national side's metamorphosis from traditionally direct football team to sophisticated continental-like performers.
Approaching the Switzerland box with purpose and accuracy having strung several passes into feet, the majority of the 86,857 waited in anticipation for an effort on Diego Benaglio's goal.
The Swiss players had got back behind the ball and suffocated the space to deliver a telling through ball or cross though England, still in an advanced position, did not do what every spectator in the stadium, except a certain 61-year-old in a dark overcoat, expected them to do.
With no way through, they worked the ball all the way back to the halfway line and maintained possession, prompting a chorus of boos that rang around the arena. It was as if Capello had smuggled some Italian footballers into Wembley and given them an England strip each.
To the displeasure of many of those who had not only turned up to support the Three Lions but to see how the new coach had impacted on a group of underachieving footballers, their side demonstrated a patience with the ball rarely seen in the history of the national team.
As the ball was worked away from the Swiss area to the back four, it conjured up memories of Capello's great Milan side of the 1990s, the all-conquering side that won four Scudetti and a Champions League with a brand of keep-ball football entwined with bursts of flair.
The reaction of the crowd was understandable, if somewhat predictable. This, after all, is a public that has been brought up on a diet of fast-paced, attacking play prescribed by the Premier League.
Deeply embedded in the English football psyche is the urge to whack the ball long towards the forwards as quickly as possible and hit the box, often in hope rather than purpose, whenever in promising areas.
England fans have grown up believing this is how the game should be played, regardless of the fact that it has brought the country one major title in the last 42 years.
Capello has his work cut out to convince them that an alteration in the nation's football mentality will bring success. That, of course, would quickly melt away resistance to his methods.
For the time being though, a large proportion of England fans do not regard football as a game of chess requiring discipline, patience and guile. Many of them find that boring. They see it is an intense battle of physical power, determination, passion and fitness.
From a defensive viewpoint, they have been indoctrinated into believing that possession should rarely be maintained in their half of the pitch and never outside their own box. For them, hitting the ball long instead of seeking out a team-mate relieves pressure.
For long periods of the first half, England played like a continental side. They displayed poise in possession in tight spaces and it was only after half time that they began to look like their old selves.
It was almost as if Capello had satisfied himself that they could keep the ball in the opening 45 minutes and told the players in the dressing room during the interval to relax and play a game more familiar to them in the second period.
The 57th minute introduction of Peter Crouch suggests as much. He had a hand in Shaun Wright-Phillips' winner, manufactured in typically English fashion, the striker flicking on a long punt upfield to Wayne Rooney, who found Steven Gerrard, whose cross was converted by the Chelsea man.
If it is Capello's aim to transform the way England play, he undoubtedly realises it should be a gradual process, not an instant one.
It is virtually impossible to draw any conclusions about England's prospects on the basis of one match but the forecast of David Beckham prolonging his international career looked decidedly gloomy.
The boos reserved for England's new-found style of play should have been saved for the Tannoy announcer's declaration of Gerrard as man of the match. That accolade belonged to David Bentley.
Another man who may well have been shifting uncomfortably in his seat, if indeed he was watching, was Arsene Wenger. How the Frenchman must regret allowing the 23-year-old to leave Arsenal in 2006. His loss is Blackburn's gain.
It was a delight to watch the right-sided player spray pass after pass into feet, locate the runs of Rooney with an almost telepathic understanding and unerring accuracy and he rarely wasted possession.
Bentley gave Capello hard evidence at Wembley of England's rejuvenation down the right and a firm reason never to pick the former captain again. Bentley wore Beckham's number seven shirt and, injuries aside, should keep it.
That, along with England's first tentative steps towards an alternative football philosophy, were the features to cling to as Capello began restoring the team's winning mentality.
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