“You’ve beaten them once. Now go out and bloody beat them again!”
That's an excerpt of the pep talk delivered by England manager Sir Alf Ramsey before the 1966 World Cup triumph at the old Wembley.
Fast-forward 43 years, and current England manager Fabio Capello may have been echoing those sentiments before last night’s rematch with old foes Croatia.
An impressive England performance a year ago in Zagreb saw Capello overcome his first serious hurdle. A Theo Walcott hat trick propelled the away side to a 4-1 rout.
There would be no repeat of the Wembley brolly scenes of three years ago. England produced an efficient and mature performance.
The Italian master provided a wonderful insight into the mind of the tactical genius—a man eternally unsatisfied, constantly striving for perfection while displaying a true passion for the game.
John Terry and his troops sought redemption for that 3-2 loss to the Croatians in the dark, gloomy, and frankly depressing Steve McClaren days. The wound wasn’t quite healed.
Ninety minutes later, all memories of that dour defeat were soon banished. South Africa beckoned for Capello’s men.
It took just six minutes for a driven England side dressed to unlock the Croatian defence to open the scoring against a lackluster Croatian side.
Aaron Lennon darted into the box. Dodging defenders with electric feet, Lennon dipped past Josep Simunic, who stuck out a leg, with the English No. 7 collapsing to the ground.
It was an easy decision for the referee, which was followed by an inevitable outcome, as Frank Lampard steered the ball into the left hand corner past Vedan Runje.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0.
Steven Gerrard sprayed a pass out to the right side of midfield. Lennon found himself in acres of space. The Croatian defenders prepared themselves for another assault by the winger.
However, Lennon whipped in an early cross that was met by Gerrard, who guided his header into the net.
The Tottenham midfielder cemented himself as a serious contender for the position on the right after Shaun Wright-Phillips unsuccessfully auditioned for the role against Slovenia last Saturday.
In the pre-match press conference, Slaven Bilic singled out Glen Johnson as a potential weakness in the England side. The Croatian manager seemed intent on providing motivation for the England squad, leaving Capello redundant.
The right-back played a pivotal role in the third goal.
Johnson bamboozled the opposing defenders with a couple of sidesteps before a powerful run to the bye-line, where he unleashed a marvelous cut-back cross that was nodded home by Lampard.
England looked in a rampant mood: comfortable in possession, with the 4-2-3-1 formation working to full effect.
They began to string passes together effortlessly. The movement of Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney in attack opened up endless avenues for Gerrard, Lampard, and Lennon to explore.
It wasn’t long before England had a fourth.
A chipped Gerrard pass was controlled by Rooney. The Manchester United striker floated the ball to the back post, where Gerrard, who had continued his run, glanced the ball over the despairing Runje.
But the perfect night was ruined by some lapse defending by England.
Johnson looked a threat all night when marauding forward, and in defence he looked competent except for one error.
The Liverpool player, who Capello lauded as the best right-back in the world, failed to prevent a cross which was met by Eduardo. Robert Green palmed the attempt away, and although he had enjoyed a quiet night between the posts, he failed to hold on to Darijo Srna’s follow-up; it fell to Eduardo, who promptly fired past England’s No. 1.
After 90 minutes of constant booing, it provided an ounce of solace for the Arsenal No. 9.
The night ended on a positive note. Runje’s missed kick presented Rooney with the simplest of finishes. Even Capello afforded himself a wry smile.
He may not have announced, "We will win the World Cup" upon his appointment as manager on Dec. 14, 2007, but he does possess that same iron-willed determination that was a characteristic synonymous with Sir Alf Ramsey.
The Italian will be quietly confident. Preparation for South Africa 2010 begins in earnest.
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