What England Learned In Kazakhstan

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What England Learned In Kazakhstan
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

1 Cross Capello at your peril

Fabio Capello has always ruled with an iron fist rather than the gentle arm round the shoulder and it showed in Almaty. England's start, harried as they were by fervent Kazakhs, was riddled with errors. They could have been a goal down inside 20 seconds and an offside flag later spared them.

The shoddy opening irked Capello and he was soon stood on the edge of the touchline, his gesticulations the very epitome of the angry Italian, screaming and shouting at his players. Sven Goran Eriksson or Steve McLaren mollycoddled under-performing players. Capello would sooner strangle them.

The approach paid off and England ended the first-half two goals to the good thanks to efforts from Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey. They are sitting pretty atop their group after six wins out of six and surely all that can derail their journey to South Africa now is complacency. Under Capello's disciplined order, that is unlikely to happen.

2 Green fingers

Sergei Ostapenko oh so nearly became Kazakhstan's answer to Davide Gualtieri when he missed inside of 20 seconds. That he failed to score his gilt-edged chance was down to a combination of Robert Green, making his first competitive start in goal for England, and John Terry. England would probably have preferred to play in mankinis than to have conceded to Ostapenko

Green's touch was vital, for England and his confidence alike. Conceding so early into his England career would have made him a laughing stock - being the goalkeeper for the national side is not the easiest of tasks. But he survived that scare and looked assured for the rest of the 90 minutes. David James may have a challenger.

3 Rooney finds the centre ground

The defensive forward is football's latest tactical innovation. Attackers like Dirk Kuyt and Wayne Rooney are increasingly employed by their managers to destroy and create in equal measure. In the Champions League final, Sir Alex Ferguson assigned Rooney to Manchester United's left flank in order to negate Lionel Messi's impact.

For England, though, Capello has used Rooney behind a main striker and the United forward has repaid him by scoring eight goals in his past six matches for England. Given his goal drought for England previously, Rooney is clearly thriving unde Capello's guidance.

His goal on Saturday took the breath away, a acrobatic overhead kick into the far corner after his initial improvised effort had been saved. Few would have tried it; fewer still would have pulled it off. After the match Rooney spoke about how much he enjoys being England's focal point - a pointed reminder for the boss back at Old Trafford?

4 Left-wing leanings suit Gerrard

After a dismal 2-2 draw in a friendly against the Czech Republic last August, Harry Redknapp blasted Capello for "destroying" Steven Gerrard by playing him on the left. It was a parochial view that betrayed the English manager's lack of tactical flexibility. Those calling for Gerrard to play in central midfield need their heads testing.

The beauty of the current system is that Rooney and Gerrard can interchange at will. Each is comfortable in the other's current position, and the Liverpool captain has demonstrated an ability to cut inside from the left and unleash with his right foot, as he did away in Belarus.

Gerrard did not sparkle in Almaty, not that he was required to. Yet he is dangerous from anywhere, as his part in England's second goal highlighted. What Redknapp must understand is that Capello has located a balance painfully absent in recent line-ups. Two holding midfielders in Barry and Frank Lampard (although each has permission to maraud when appropriate) support an attacking trident of Gerrard, Rooney and Theo Walcott. It's worked so far. Don't change it.

5 Possession frittered away too easily

They say possession is 9/10ths of the law, but it's a dictum England have never really appreciated. They reached their nadir in their World Cup quarter-final against Brazil in 2002, when opposition reduced to ten men passed their way to victory. The fear for Capello must be that as solid as his team can be, the ball is still given away with alarming regularity.

If Kazakhstan can harry them into errors, and they did on Saturday, then what hope against Spain, Argentina or Brazil? More care must be taken. A state of panic when pressed must not be reached so easily. Players like Lampard, Barry and Gerrard must take more responsibility.

So must the defence. Too often John Terry and Matthew Upson hoofed the ball forward with barely a thought for its eventual destination. England may never be Spain and it is true that successful sides are generally ones that play to their strengths. Yet it will not escape Capello that his two defeats have come against France and Spain, teams who, unlike Kazakhstan, will have the weapons to punish sloppiness in South Africa.

 

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